The Adult Industry Trade Association (AITA) recently organised an open meeting with Pete Johnson of ATVOD.
Pete Johnson (ex BBFC) has been charged to head ATVOD, an organisation sanctioned by OFCOM under an EU directive to collect fees from all websites that fit the video on demand criteria under law.
They provide no service to the website owner whatsoever, but imposed a charge of £2900 per site in 2010 (currently consulting about a variable charge related to turnover for 2011).
Practically every website with video gets caught up in the censorial rules, except for user content websites along the lines of YouTube. Perhaps only Google are big enough to have the political clout to avoid the censorship.
The EU law underpinning the censorship requirement is supposed to be ‘light touch’. It only really bans hate material, has restrictions on sponsorship/product placement and requires child protection from material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen, such material must be made available in a manner which secures that such persons will not normally see or hear it.
But of course it is this last requirement that has been used to stitch up the UK adult trade.
In a very illuminating talk (available at the above link), Pete Johnson outlines some of the extremes of child protection to be enforced by ATVOD (although Johnson alludes to the overly strict interpretation of the law being down to the British Government, rather than ATVOD).
Onerous Age Verification requirements
In essence, the powers to be have decided that all hardcore content has be locked off in sections of websites where age verification is in place. Although over mechanisms may appear over the coming years, the only currently acceptable method seems to require a credit card payment before allowing access.
Even debit card payments are unacceptable, as such cards are sometimes held by under 18′s.
No hardcore video may be made available on free preview areas of adult websites. Perhaps the only hope of convincing prospective customers that a website will deliver the goods, is that, hardcore photos are not covered by this law and are therefore allowed without age verification (assuming that they are not considered legally obscene).
And in a truely bizarre piece of reasoning, all 18 rated video, be it torture horror, or softcore porn, can be shown without such mandatory age verification. So a graphic castration is acceptable whereas as a blow job isn’t.
Surely its going to be very limiting to be able to sell only to credit card holders, and even more limiting to only be able to promote to people who are willing to type in the arduous details required for credit card transactions, just for a look-see. Surely the trust issue will also deter customers who would like to see an extensive and fully operational website as evidence of being trust worthy as opposed to a fly-by-night rip off.
Also the UK adult business suffers from a lot of softcore on satellite and cable (and historically from sex shops) pushed by companies desperately trying to suggest that their material is hardcore, when in fact, it is nothing of the kind. (I for one am still bitter from being ripped off by sex shops from 20 years ago). It must be very important for British companies to be able to convince prospective customers that they are selling pukka hardcore before they hand over their cash.
It hardly seems a very fair trading environment for Britain. Foreign competitors can incorporate free hardcore material for promotional purposes, and thereafter accept payments via any method. Suddenly the porn tubes suddenly got a whole lot more threatening.
Rules for UK Eyes Only?
Pete Johnson was very keen to present these new censorial rules as a fait accompli. He glossed over any debate or explanation as to whether hardcore porn can actually seriously impair the moral development of under 18s. Surely it is debatable that the sight of such a fundamentally normal activity of life can do so much damage. The same issue was debated in court at the time of the legalisation of R18 videos and DVDs and no such serious impairment was proven to the judge.
In fact there seems to have been a change of view amongst UK censors. The BBFC wrote about this same topic in 2010 (in their Annual Report of 2009 [pdf]):
The duty to enforce the new rules lies with Ofcom who, in relation to ‘editorial content’, intend to delegate most of those powers to the Association for Television On Demand (ATVOD). Both Ofcom and ATVOD have made clear that, in their view, content which has been classified by the BBFC in any category, including ‘R18′, would not be considered likely to seriously impair those under 18, and therefore does not need to be placed behind access controls.
Perhaps ATVOD’s newly censorial interpretation of the European directive may also rattle a few cages in the rest of Europe. Hardcore films are broadcast there on encrypted subscription TV as part of standard general film channels such as Canal Plus. Indeed Netherlands TV has shown hardcore films on unencrypted broadcast TV. It would be interesting to see if these countries would appreciate being told by Britain that they are seriously impairing the moral development of their youngsters.
Perhaps the British video on demand trade should debate some of these issues before kowtowing to the censorial interpretation being pedaled by ATVOD.