Tag Archives: atvod

Britain’s First Official Internet Censor Is… The BBFC

Today’s news, that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will become an official Internet censor, is not so surprising, if you’ve followed the long saga of British state attempts to censor the mass media. The story is long and convoluted, begins in the 1970s, and is summarised in part in my book Porn Panic!

The creation of the new censorship function is part of the “anti-porn” measures in the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently in Parliament. So here’s the first weird thing – the action of appointing the BBFC has taken place before the law is passed. Cart-before-horse, much? But this abuse of process is minor, compared to what has come before. The bill will, no doubt, be passed with little scrutiny, because the UK’s first great step into Internet censorship has been sold under the banner (as I’ve long predicted) of “protecting children from pornography”.

Let’s remind ourselves that, in regulator-speak, “pornography” means “anything we want to censor”. Remember David Cameron’s optional “porn filters” which block 19% of the Internet, for example? In the current draft of the Bill, the definition of porn has been hugely extended from hardcore material to any sexual/nude/erotic material. The old regulations have been extended from covering just video to including still imagery and even audio. Audio porn? you ask… what’s that? Well, exactly. This bill will begin broad and get broader.

As I’ve repeatedly pointed out in the three years since I started this blog and campaign, this isn’t about BDSM, or kink, or porn, or even sex. It’s about everything.

The BBFC was an film industry body until (suitably) 1984, when it was given government-approved powers to censor (as well as classify) video. Ironically, just as it was given this draconian censorship power, it changed the C in its name from Censorship to Classification. George Orwell would be proud. One of the results of the 1984 change in law was an immediate ban by the BBFC (a private organisation) on hardcore pornography, without a debate or discussion in Parliament. Our censorship laws are written by unelected officials with minimal accountability to our elected government. This should deeply worry anybody who cares about democracy.

In 2007, I went to meet a certain Pete Johnson, the BBFC’s Head of Online, who was attempting to set up a programme for regulating online video. Johnson’s scheme failed to get approval, but he was instead appointed head of ATVOD, the video-on-demand regulator, reporting to Ofcom, which (heavily) censors TV and radio. I campaigned against ATVOD’s bullying and arbitrary behaviour for some years.

A year ago, it was announced that ATVOD would be dissolved, and powers returned to Ofcom. This was greeted with applause by campaigners, but as I pointed out at the time – this was a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Now, the new law will give the new regulator (which, we now know, is the BBFC) far stronger powers than ATVOD had. The scope of the regulator (as mentioned above) will be far broader than ATVOD’s “TV-like content”. Any commercial site carrying “porn” (i.e. nude video/imagery/audio…) and not properly verifying the age of its visitors will face sanctions from the BBFC. Furthermore, unlike ATVOD, the BBFC will have powers to sanction overseas providers. (Note – the age verification requirement is onerous, and has been banned by the US Supreme Court as censorship. I previously explained this issue in a post).

For what it’s worth, here’s a little guess: could Pete Johnson, a well known anti-porn activist regulator when he ran ATVOD, be about to make a triumphal return to the BBFC?

Until now, those backing this law have insisted that the sanctions will relate to withholding payment services, and similar. But in Parliament yesterday, the (presumably jubilant) BBFC director David Austin said that “sanctioned sites could find web properties blocked by IP address and de-indexed from search engines”.

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I’ve been following the porn panic for almost ten years. For almost that long, it has been crystal-clear where all this is leading, though it has moved like treacle. Cleverly, the introduction of Britain’s first Internet censor has been justified, from start to end, by pornography.

Our cause isn’t helped by sexual freedom campaigners who still think this is about “kinkphobia” or “sexist porn censorship”. It really isn’t, it’s about our most fundamental rights of free expression. We’re witnessing the greatest attack on free speech in generations, and our press and politicians are still asleep on the job. Please help me wake them up.

Please buy my book or make a donation to this campaign. Every little helps. Thank you.

Pornographer Pandora Blake Wins Battle, but Free Speech is Losing the War

First, here’s the good news. Porn-maker Pandora Blake announced yesterday that her fetish website, Dreams of Spanking, will be switched back on, following a decision by Ofcom that it did not, after all, fall within their remit. The site had previously been targeted by the video-on-demand regulator ATVOD on the basis that it lacked age verification controls, and contained content that was harder than would legally be allowed under the UK’s insipid DVD regulations. In January, ATVOD was closed down, and its powers brought within Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator and censor.

Blake’s appeal was one that has been successfully used a number of times since the video-on-demand (AVMS) regulations were introduced in 2010. AVMS is an EU framework designed specifically to regulate TV-like video-on-demand services. ATVOD, however, attempted to stretch the definition of “TV-like” as far as possible, in order to shore up its own income and power. Its first overreach, in 2011, was an attempt to define newspaper websites as TV-like, and thus bring news content within its remit. A raft of publications, led by the Sun, appealed that their content was not TV-like. Ofcom agreed with them, and ATVOD was forced to back down.

Playboy TV attempted to make a similar appeal with regard to its websites, but lost. The first porn site to successfully appeal was Urban Chick – Supremacy Cell (UC-SC – listen to my podcast interview with the site’s owner). So UC-SC became the only porn site legally allowed to remain in the UK without having to meet ATVOD’s stringent rules. Dreams of Spanking now becomes the second such site. So we have the bizarre situation where exactly two websites are legally allowed to operate in the UK without Ofcom’s oversight. Can this continue? No.

Here’s the not-so-good news. Blake’s site is probably the last porn site to wriggle through the “not TV-Like” loophole, and its reprieve is a temporary one. Yesterday’s media celebrations are overblown. For example, in Broadly: Feminist Porn Director Gets Big Spanking Win for Fetish Sites. But this isn’t true. It is extremely unlike that any more fetish sites will be following UC-SC and Dreams of Spanking into libertarian paradise. And furthermore, those two sites have only won a short stay.

Ofcom, along with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, has long been lobbying for greater powers to censor the Internet. One of its gripes has been the “TV-like” loophole which Pandora Blake and others have successfully used. The government’s consultation on “protecting children”, issued earlier this year, made clear that government plans to remove this restriction, extending Ofcom’s jurisdiction from video-on-demand services to all forms of adult content, even including still imagery.

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Ofcom’s loathing of pornography is well known, and it hasn’t suddenly seen the light. To refuse Blake’s appeal would have opened up the regulator to challenge and scrutiny: its existing powers have dubious legal status. Far better to wait a few months until the new Digital Economy Bill is passed into law; at that stage, it can happily pull the plug on all the adult sites it chooses, without the risk of legal challenge.

So while this is a wonderful personal triumph for Pandora Blake, nobody should believe this represents a movement by the authorities, who now have victory within their sights. Ofcom and DCMS have quietly put the pieces into place for Internet censorship, and will hardly get distracted now by a couple of small fetish websites that have – for the moment – evaded their net. Nothing of significance will happen until Ofcom’s new powers are set in stone by the Digital Economy Bill – and then Blake’s site, along with many other porn, webcam and erotica sites will become illegal, and begin to vanish from the web.

The Queen’s Speech 2016: Online Censorship Now Official Policy

Since 2010, when the government empowered ATVOD to regulate video-on-demand services, the direction of travel has been clear: there would little point in enforcing tough regulations on UK content providers, without also the power to block overseas services. Last Wednesday, the Queen’s Speech to Parliament finally confirmed what has been looming for several years. The huge and unelected communications regulator Ofcom is to be given extra powers over Internet content. This announcement was tucked innocuously away within the plans for the Digital Economy Bill, as follows:

“All websites containing pornographic images to require age verification for access”.

On its own, this is an odd announcement. After all, this provision has already been a UK regulation enforced by Ofcom since 2010, and was strengthened in the AVMS 2014 law (which prompted the famous face-sitting protest outside Parliament).So why is the government repeatedly announcing the same measure? It isn’t, really: it just reuses the “child protection” justification for different actions. This time, Ofcom is to be given powers to disrupt overseas providers that provide “adult” content without first verifying users’ ages. If this seems reasonable, keep in mind the following:

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  • The government consultation on online pornography, which closed only last month, has not yet even reported. What was its purpose then?
  • When government talks about “pornography”, this is shorthand for any content it considers unsuitable for children, which (as long experience has shown) includes anything from sex education to drug information; from “extreme” political speech to self-harm support sites.
  • Age verification is, in practise, riddled with problems, as I previously outlined here.
  • The powers assigned to Ofcom, as yet not specified, are likely to be open-ended. So although the talk is of pursuing adult payment and advertising services, it seems a certainty that site blocking will be on the table soon.

What does this mean?

The Internet as we know it is going to change fundamentally. Mindgeek, owner of the largest porn services, has signalled that it will comply with the UK law, which means that sites like Pornhub and Youporn will no longer be freely available. Most major providers will doubtless follow. And sites featuring strong fetish content – even that which is legal in the United States and much of Europe – will not be able to comply with UK regulations at all, even if they implement age verification. But porn represents the tip of the iceberg.

In 2014, the major ISPs implemented optional “porn filters” in response to arm-twisting by David Cameron. The result was that about 20% of all websites became unavailable to users that switched on their “child protection” at home: a reminder that “porn” is a shorthand for a very broad range of content. Most users simply switched the filters off: this new regime will be far harder to circumvent.

Many services that allow user-contributed content will be classed as “adult”: Twitter will, unless it heavily self-censors its adult content. So, no doubt, will its live streaming service, Periscope, which could well be used to stream sexual material.

We will be watching as the Digital Economy Bill progresses. The wording of Ofcom’s new powers will be important to the future of free speech in the UK. Join our mailing list or Facebook page to keep track of events. This campaign is entirely funded by donations from supporters – you can donate here.

From ATVOD to Ofcom: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

The recent transfer of Internet censorship powers from ATVOD to Ofcom has been trumpeted as a victory for free expression. It is anything but.

In 2009, the then opposition leader, David Cameron (who, we might remember, used to show vaguely liberal leanings), made a radical pledge: to break up the mighty super-regulator, Ofcom.  As reported by the Guardian, he said:

“With a Conservative government, Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist. Its remit will be restricted to its narrow technical and enforcement roles. It will no longer play a role in making policy. And the policy-making functions it has today will be transferred back fully to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.”

This was a very important pledge. Ofcom, a large organisation with an annual budget running into the hundreds of millions of pounds, also writes and enforces policy, particularly in the field of television censorship: something that, as Cameron had noticed, is surely the role of government rather than an unelected regulator.

Of course, once the coalition was elected in 2010, this pledge was never heard of again. Ofcom remained intact, and is alive and well to this day. Furthermore, as of 1st January this year, video-on-demand censorship powers were transferred from ATVOD to Ofcom.

When the demise of ATVOD was reported last year, there was much jubilation, especially among small UK porn producers. As probably the original anti-ATVOD campaigner (having been in some way involved with the new VoD regulations since 2007), I too did a little dance on ATVOD’s grave. ATVOD’s CEO, Pete Johnson, had proven to be an obsessive anti-porn activist, and he turned his organisation’s ‘regulatory activity’ into little more than a witch-hunt of British porn publishers.

But some of those involved trumpeted this move as some kind of victory for free expression. Anyone with experience of Ofcom would never make such a mistake. It is a grave threat to online free speech.

Ofcom is a typical New Labour creation: iron-fisted authoritarianism wrapped in a velvet glove of diversity and other fluffy things. Formed by merging multiple regulators into one monolith, it was granted powers of control over our daily lives. Its rules for television are moralistic and wide-ranging, and almost never challenged by our elected representatives. The 2009 version of David Cameron deserves at least a little kudos for even mentioning the problem.

Ofcom’s attitudes to pornography on TV make ATVOD’s prudish rules for VoD seem positively libertine. While online rules allow hardcore porn – at least up to the BBFC’s R18 standard – Ofcom totally banned all explicit sex acts from TV. This applies even to PIN-protected adult channels broadcasting at 3am. In the name of child protection, British adults are banned from watching porn on TV: almost all other EU countries and the ‘prudish’ US allow hardcore porn to be broadcast – many in the middle of the day.

But even the BBFC’s 18 standard for soft porn is too much for the moralists at Ofcom, who have created their own, even softer standard of decency, which is prudish to the point of comedy.

Empowered by the Broadcast Act (2003), Ofcom doesn’t just write law: it is judge, jury and executioner. Tiny breaches of its code can result in fines of tens of thousands of pounds – in fact, it can impose fines of up to £250,000. And it also has the power to order TV channels to close, and even to ban companies from operating TV channels.

Playboy TV, for example, fell foul of Ofcom rules numerous times. Having been fined £25,000 in 2004, it was fined £22,500 in 2008 for broadcasting content that ‘included sequences depicting masturbation, oral sex (both between women and between men and women), clear labial detail, sexual intercourse, and full nudity. Some also included strong language, such as “fuck” and its derivatives and “cunt”, in an overtly sexual context.’

Yes folks, a massive, unelected, publicly-funded organisation issues huge fines to porn businesses that allow adults to see ‘clear labial detail’, on an encrypted TV channel in the middle of the night.

With the convergence of TV and the Internet, Ofcom was always going to make a grab for Internet censorship powers. The closure of ATVOD may have made us all smile, but it fits in with Ofcom’s strategic interests. In fact, ATVOD only existed for temporary convenience, the result of a pretence at co-regulation between government and industry (ATVOD was once a genuine trade association, but was hijacked and turned into a censorship body in 2010).

The current consultation on further Internet censorship powers for Ofcom is ominous indeed. It is clearly an exercise in box-checking before the government inevitably decides that the UK, alone in the democratic world, needs more Internet censorship to protect our under-18s (and purely by accident, protect adults too) from sexual expression. There is little chance that the old, liberal Cameron will leap to our rescue. Internet censorship is on the short-term agenda: the transfer of power from ATVOD to Ofcom was not a victory for free speech, but a signal that state censorship of the Internet is getting serious.

ALERT: UK Government Consultation on Further Anti-Porn Law

When attacks on civil liberties are announced by governments, they are usually sold under the guise of “tackling terrorism” or “protecting children”. Today, we have an example of the latter.

The UK government today announced the start of a consultation on protecting children from the insidious effects of online pornography. This might seem a little like Groundhog Day to many observers, who have repeatedly seen British porn laws and regulations added and extended over the years, always to “protect children”.

So, it turns out, all of the previous exercises in child protection weren’t enough. Now we need yet more action, since (unsurprisingly) companies based outside of the UK are ignoring our regulations. Since the UK is the only country in the world to implement such a ludicrously large raft of anti-porn laws, this is hardly surprising.

The latest proposals are to implement a new law that can be used to attack those naughty foreign porn sites that ignore the UK’s (pointless) age verification regulations (in other words, all the porn sites in the world). The planned means of attack will to cut off UK revenue streams to porn services, via pressure on services such as payment providers and advertising companies. It is not made clear whether hosting companies or ISPs will also be targeted.

The government document is deeply dishonest in its presentation of evidence that porn is harmful, for at least one good reason: as far as we know, it isn’t. Even the government’s own research suggests that porn access is broadly beneficial to society, rather than harmful. The document ignores this basic fact with skill, and even reprises the discredited ‘research’ from the NSPCC that this campaign challenged last year.

According to research (Kendall), porn use among 15-19 year olds is responsible for a decline in rape among that age-group; yet this is the very group to which the government seeks to switch off access (the government considers everyone under 18 to be a ‘child’ when it comes to pornography).

The document also claims that only 100 sites constitute 77% of UK porn traffic; yet it fails to make the obvious point that if these 100 were somehow blocked, users would move to other sites. So the regulator would have to target another 100, then another 100, and so on. In fact, there are many millions of porn sites (not to mention millions of others that are not pornographic, but which the UK government considers unsuitable for children anyway).

Sex & Censorship will, of course, be submitting a response to this consultation, and begin a campaign of public education to demonstrate how dishonest – not to mention dangerous – this government’s anti-porn campaigns are. We call on supporters to also submit your own responses.

Readers are also asked to consider donating to this campaign – even just a few pounds/euros/dollars can help – to support our work. Think of it as an investment to protect your right to watch free porn.

ATVOD Has Closed. Now What?

The UK’s VoD regulator ATVOD has closed its doors effective 1st January, and its powers have moved within the huge and powerful super-regulator, Ofcom.

Regular readers will be somewhat familiar with the strange and twisted story of ATVOD. In 2010, the regulator came into being in order to regulate VoD alongside broadcast TV, as required by the European Union. But instead of focusing on the convergence of broadcast and VoD, ATVOD instead showed a remarkable obsession with closing down porn sites. Its regulations – especially a requirement for adult sites to verify the ages of all visitors – resulted in the virtual collapse of the UK porn industry. I was one of a number of adult site operators who approached the regulator for guidance in its earliest days, only to find that our necks were first on the block (most UK adult businesses stayed wisely silent and migrated their operations overseas).

From the start, ATVOD’s CEO Pete Johnson showed a remarkable lack of interest in working with the UK’s small adult industry, and chose instead to wipe the bulk of it out. Mine was among the first wave of businesses closed down or forced to move overseas (Playboy TV was another, which moved its headquarters from London to Canada).

As I have pointed out, this was never really about porn: instead, ATVOD has been using the regulations to call for more censorship of the Internet. They have argued that, since British porn has been ‘cleaned up’, then Something Must Be Done to stop British consumers watching porn from overseas. The obvious, but largely unspoken end result will be the introduction of an official state censor with the power to order ISPs to block sites.

While sexual freedom campaigners are delighted to see the anti-porn regulator go, and some are claiming this as a victory, the change is, in reality, ominous, and is unlikely to result in any loosening of porn regulations: in fact Ofcom runs one of the world’s most unnecessarily prudish regimes of TV censorship, and is unlikely to be more relaxed about Internet content. The end of ATVOD has probably been largely driven by disquiet among large broadcasters, who have reportedly been increasingly annoyed to be funding an anti-porn witch-hunt.

Now that Ofcom has taken the reins, we can expect to see the regulator lobbying for more censorship powers against ‘unacceptable’ overseas content – which doubtless will go far broader than pornography. Currently, a private members bill to enable censorship is in progress through Parliament. Like previous non-government attempts, this will probably fail, but we should watch out for the contents of the  Queen’s Speech this Spring. Any mention of ‘online safety’ or ‘protecting children online’ will herald the impending end of free Internet access for British citizens.

My book, Porn Panic!, which documents the increasing attacks on sexual and other expression in the UK, will be published shortly. Please join our mailing list to be alerted about the book, and receive other updates from Sex & Censorship.

What’s the Problem With Age Verification?

Last December, a law – known as AVMS 2014 – was snuck into force without a parliamentary debate. This law had two aspects: one of which was largely ignored. The part that wasn’t ignored criminalised the distribution of porn stronger than the BBFC’s tame R18 classification. This effectively outlawed the depiction of acts considered beyond-the-pale by the British establishment, even though these acts are perfectly legal to carry out in private, and provoked the memorable face-sitting protest outside Parliament.

The aspect of AVMS 2014 that the coverage largely overlooked related to age verification, making it mandatory for adult video providers to confirm that each visitor is over 18 before allowing them to see any form of explicit image or video. Arguably, this part of the law was far more significant, but on the surface seemed more reasonable. This regulation has actually been enforced by ATVOD since 2010: the 2014 law merely strengthened the existing rules.

But demanding age verification by adult service providers has far deeper implications than might be immediately obvious, and ones that inevitably have implications for the existence of an uncensored Internet.

Excluding Adults

The first problem is that, whatever the means of age verification, there will be adults that cannot get through it. Current age verification solutions include: using a credit card; providing passport or driving license details; using a mobile phone that has already been age-verified. But many adults cannot provide any of these things, and furthermore many wouldn’t want to, for privacy reasons.

Unfortunately, the UK has no strong protection against censorship, but the US does: and in America, the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that onerous age verification is undoubtedly censorship, so cannot be enforced by the state. So in “conservative” America, the legal system has far more problem with adults being prevented from watching porn than in “protecting children” from seeing it. The greater harm (according to the judges) is censorship, not smut: this is as America’s founding fathers intended, as they knew that censorship can be introduced for all manner of spurious reasons, and once initiated, it tends to grow.

It’s Only the UK

The AVMS regulations are laid down by the EU. But here’s the odd part: only the UK has decided that AVMS requires an expensive, activist regulator along ATVOD lines; only the UK has interpreted the AVMS scope to include adult websites (the regulations were originally designed to cover TV catch-up services); and only the UK has interpreted the regulations to mean that adult websites should implement age verification.

The Internet is Global

Here’s the real, huge problem with all this. How can regulations that only cover UK-based web businesses have any meaningful effect? There are two possible interpretations: either, that ATVOD is an expensive but powerless quango, or that the government will introduce blocking of overseas adult websites on a mass scale.

Until recently, the latter option sounded like a conspiracy theory, but during the general election campaign, the Tories announced they would be blocking sites that don’t conform to AVMS. This would require the creation of an official UK Internet censor – the first such thing in any democratic society – and probably entail the blocking of millions of sites that are considered unsuitable for children.

A “Perverts Database”

Aside from censorship, privacy is the other major concern. Age verification providers will know which sites each user is trying to access. Is it acceptable and necessary that one’s credit card provider, mobile provider or other authority could know you tried to access BustySpankedSluts.com last Friday night?

Evangelists for age verification suggest that this problem could be averted by the creation of an “anonymising hub”. This would shield the adult site and the age verification service from each other, so that the site operator need not know your mobile number, and O2 will never know you had a wank to BustySpankedSluts.com.

But potentially, the hub multiplies the privacy issue. Now, there is a central database linking individuals to porn sites. Who would have the right to access, browse and search the database? Would the police ever have reason to request to access it? Would some alliance of hackers steal and publish data, just to prove they could, or use it for blackmail? Once this data is stored in a single place, the privacy implications are astounding.

Is a 17 Year-old a “Minor”?

ATVOD sets the age limit for accessing pornography at 18: it therefore defines 16 and 17 year olds as children, despite the age of consent being 16 in the UK. This means that debit cards can’t be used for age verification, as they can be issued to 16 year olds, and so makes age verification more onerous (many adults don’t own credit cards).

No Evidence of Harm

It’s worth a reminder at this point that the AVMS restrictions are predicated on stopping minors from viewing content that “might seriously impair” them. And yet, research carried out by Ofcom on behalf of the UK government, as well as research carried out across the European Union, is unanimous: no evidence can be found that pornography is capable of “seriously impairing”, and in fact the government’s own evidence suggests that pornography is associated with a reduction in harm. (Ofcom report – key finding is bottom page 15/top page 16).

Think of the Children!

All of this overlooks a simple fact: child protection filters are standard these days on all devices, from tablets and phones to PCs. Family brands like Tesco – which have reputations to maintain – sell their own child-friendly tablets. But such filters don’t empower or enrich regulators. Nor do they help make the case for censorship, or provide the opportunity to snoop on citizens, so they are ignored when the case for age verification is made.

While most EU authorities have thus concluded that there is no need for server-side age verification, Ofcom, ATVOD and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have decided otherwise, and have implemented a “precautionary” system. This seems akin to fitting expensive locks to all fridges, in order to prevent teenagers freezing to death in the kitchen: it’s never happened, but you can’t prove it never will, can you?

Breaking: Dominatrix Challenges Anti-Porn ATVOD Law

Readers of this blog will remember the December law (aka AVMS 2014) which outlaws content on UK adult websites stronger than the BBFC’s R18 certificate. This is the law that prompted the facesitting protest outside Parliament – how could you forget?

The regulator appointed by the government responsible for checking whether someone has sat on someone’s face a bit too long, or spanked someone a bit too hard (yes, it really exists) is known as ATVOD. ATVOD has now taken its first actions under the new law, serving notice on two dominatrices that their sites contain illegal content. One of the dommes closed her site after being approached by ATVOD, but the other is challenging the validity of AVMS 2014.

The ATVOD ruling makes clear the state’s squeamish and censorious approach to fetish pornography, stating:

Banned pornographic material made available on the UK based services included videos of heavy whipping likely to cause lasting physical harm, the infliction of pain on a person who appears unable to withdraw consent, and repeated strong kicks to the genitals which appear to draw blood. Such material has been prohibited on UK based VOD services since 1 December 2014 under new statutory regulations designed to bring online rules into line with those that operate offline. Other videos featuring explicit images of real sex and BDSM material could also be accessed by children on the internet services, in breach of further statutory requirements.

For a regulator whose remit is supposed to cover all forms of video entertainment, ATVOD’s CEO Pete Johnson appears to spend a high proportion of his time chasing down dommes. Approached for comment, Obscenity law specialist Myles Jackman pondered:

“The appropriately named Mr Johnson appears to have a particular fixation for slapping Female Dominatrixes’ websites with adverse determinations. Only he can answer if he enjoys singling out female-owned cottage-industry producers over global industry players.”

Shockingly, the new law was pushed through without a parliamentary vote, using a parliamentary procedure designed for rubber-stamping EU legislation into UK law. But the ban on fetish porn does not appear to be justified by EU legislation, and currently the UK is the only EU country to take such an action. Campaigners believe that the new law should have been subject to a full debate and vote by MPs.

Mistress R’eal has appealed against ATVOD’s ruling that her site is in breach of regulations on the basis that the December law is not valid. We wish her luck in defending her right to free expression. Her full appeal is as follows:

“I submit that the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, which introduced sections 368E(2) and (3) into the Communications Act 2003, were made ultra vires the Secretary of State’s power to pass secondary legislation under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Section 2(2) gives the Secretary of State the power to pass secondary legislation for the purpose of implementing any EU obligation or for the purpose of dealing with matters arising out of or related to EU obligations. I note that the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2010/13/EU) imposes an obligation on Member States to prohibit hate speech on ODPS (Art. 6); by contrast, it does not contain any obligation to ban content that may be harmful to minors from ODPS, only an obligation to ensure that access to such content is appropriately restricted (Article 12). In the premises, I fail to see how the 2014 Regulations (and, by extension, section 368E(2) & (3) of the 2003 Act), could be said to implement an obligation in the AVMS Directive or to deal with matters arising out of related to that Directive. The 2014 Regulations plainly go well beyond the scope of the directive – and, in doing so, subvert the appropriate democratic process for dealing with an important human rights (free speech) issue. In light of the foregoing, I submit that the 2014 Regulations and sections 368E(2)-(3), CA2003 are void – as so, by extension, is ATVOD’s Rule 14, which is based solely on the aforementioned sections of the Communications Act 2003.”

Alert: Tories Promise Chinese-Style Internet Censorship

For about five years, I’ve tracked state plans to introduce mandatory Internet censorship under the guise of “protecting children from pornography”, and for the past 18 months or so, I’ve documented these activities on this blog. This drive to censorship has been backed by carefully orchestrated scaremongering about children being “harmed” by pornography by an alliance of government regulators, religious moralists and anti-sex feminists. Most recently (and disturbingly) the child-protection charity NSPCC joined the party, with a deeply unscientific piece of market research.

Today, the Tories confirm that they will, indeed, enforce blocking of web content, if they win the election. To summarise the steps leading up to this:

  1. In 2010, a new regulator, ATVOD, was created to regulate UK video-on-demand providers. ATVOD has focused almost all its efforts on closing down UK-based porn businesses that don’t comply with extremely stringent age-verification controls.
  2. ATVOD has devoted its own resources to lobbying for more powers for itself, complaining that no other country has implemented the same controls, and thus UK citizens are still able to access pornography overseas (or in other words, they’re complaining that no other government has the same prudish and panic-prone view of pornography as ours).
  3. In December 2014, a new law was introduced, banning online pornography that exceeds the BBFC’s strict R18 rating. Sadly, many pro-porn campaigners got distracted by controls on squirting and BDSM, and missed the bigger picture – as I wrote in December, “well over 99% of the world’s [adult] websites are now technically illegal here in the UK”.
  4. The last, inevitable step is to introduce mandatory website blocking of the vast majority of adult content worldwide that does not comply with the UK’s puritanical regulations.

This new law would empower an “independent regulator” (almost certainly ATVOD) to ensure that non-compliant material will be blocked. The result would be the blocking of millions of sites to ALL UK citizens. Although this march to censorship has been done in the name of child protection, there will be no official way for UK adults to access porn outside of the UK (although technical workarounds such as Tor will be easy enough to implement).

Based on the experience so far with the optional “porn filter” (which blocks far more than pornography), we can be certain that this new mass-blocking of websites will encompass far more than porn. Indeed, the government has already signalled a desire to block “extremist” sites – whatever they might be, and media corporations have long lobbied for blocking of pirated content. If implemented, this law puts the power of Internet censorship into the hands of a non-governmental body, and certainly marks the end of an open Internet for UK citizens.

Shamefully, these plans have been backed by certain porn companies, both British and American, which see a commercial advantage to the blocking of their competitors.

Finally, the end-game of the Porn Panic has arrived: now the task of building a broad movement for free speech begins. This was never about pornography.

2015: The Year to Vote for Freedom

An election year comment from Loz Kaye, Leader of Pirate Party UK

For some time now, a nasty puritan streak has been growing in British public life, fed by prejudices both from the left and right. I don’t need to go through each instance: just search back through the history of this blog. Week after week we have seen moral outrage after outrage, crackdown after crackdown.

The absurdity of the AVMS video on demand regulations, or anti-facesitting laws if you prefer, seemed to sum up the sense of panic and how it is infringing peoples’ freedoms. At the heart of sexuality and how we use our bodies has to be consent. It is preposterous to outlaw images of an act that you can consent to. Worse still, in my view that undermines the very concept of consent itself, turning it in to something which is arbitrarily given and withheld by others, not yourself.

That is inherently political and no wonder that the following demonstration was at Westminster, however much MPs looked the other way.

This new puritanism is indeed politically motivated. The pressure on Internet Service Providers to move to default web filtering came directly from Cameron and the likes of Claire Perry pandering to tabloid scare headlines. What we learnt in 2014 was that, as so many of us warned, this led to censorship, including websites there to help victims of abuse or to support LGBT people.

The focus for so much of the moral panic has been the perceived “wild west” of the Internet. We in the Pirate Party have right from our outset opposed the use of web blocking as a state means of personal control.

Web censorship is not a tool for sexual health promotion. State censorship is not a tool for creating equality. Curtailing freedom of expression is not a tool for supporting victims of crime.

If 2014 saw us on the back foot, 2015 is the year to set the agenda. These are the key positive aims as I see it:

  • Change the direction of the Department of Culture Media and Sport pressure and work to remove default web filtering.

  • Work with advertising standards to make sure ISPs don’t misrepresent filters as foolproof parenting tools.

  • Stop the use of web filtering and blocking as a pretended social policy tool.

  • Reverse the ATVOD censorship moves.

  • DCMS should launch a review into the role of OFCOM and ATVOD in controlling freedom of expression.

  • Disband the “copyright cops” PIPCU to give programmes working with victims of abuse a £2 million boost over 3 years.

  • Embed removing of stigma about discussing sexuality frankly as a vital part of public health strategy.

I’m sure you can think of plenty more, let me know what they are and I’ll be happy to work for them.

The reason that politics has drifted so far in an authoritarian direction, particularly when it comes to sexual freedom, is that most politicians see it at best as a peripheral issue, at worst as a career ruining one, not to be touched with a barge pole. Of course ensuring the safety of sex workers, the well-being of LGBT people or removing stigma about discussing sexual health is not marginal, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

It is our job in 2015 to assert this not a peripheral issue, to destroy the myth that liking particular types of images means that you are unconcerned with the welfare of women or young people, and to support candidates who do have the guts to stand up.

At the risk of angering ATVOD, I would suggest that you can be a bit forceful in 2015. As it’s a general election year, it’s your opportunity to tell MPs and candidates what to do.

It’s very simple. For the next few months tell candidates that you expect them to actively support sexual freedom of expression with the kind of policies that I outlined, or you won’t vote for them.

Let them know that you will tell as many other people as you can to join you in finding a pro-freedom candidate. And stick to that, despite all the scaremongering about wasted votes or two horse races you’ll hear. Don’t let your MP get away with claiming this is not something that concerns their constituents after May 7th.

I suspect that most people reading this blog will not be afraid to try something new. It may be that you should consider doing that in May.