ATVOD, the independent co-regulator for the editorial content of UK video on demand services, has published determinations that six ‘adult’ video on demand services operating across 29 websites had breached statutory rules requiring UK video on demand providers to keep hardcore pornographic content out of reach of children.
The findings bring to more than 30 the number of UK porn services against whom the regulator has acted since 2012 for failing to protect children.
The six online video on demand services – Bra Busters of Britain, Hardglam, Madame Caramel, Miss Jessica Wood, One Stop Porno Shop and Speedy Bee – were held to be in breach of a statutory rule which requires that material which might seriously impair under 18s can only be made available if access is blocked to children.
The six services offered any user access to explicit hardcore porn videos which could be viewed on-demand. Yet the content of the videos was equivalent to that which could be sold only to adults in licensed sex shops if supplied on DVD.
The services each broke the statutory rules in two ways. Firstly, they allowed any visitor free, unrestricted access to hardcore pornographic or bondage, domination and sado-masochism (BDSM) video promos/trailers or still images featuring real sex in explicit detail or strong BDSM activity. Secondly, access to the full videos was open to any visitor who paid a fee. As the services accepted payment methods – such as debit cards – which can be used by under 18’s, ATVOD ruled that each service had also failed to put in place effective access controls in relation to the full videos.
Four services – Hardglam, Madame Caramel, One Stop Porno Shop and Speedy Bee – which failed to make their services fully compliant in accordance with a timetable set by ATVOD have been referred to Ofcom for consideration of a sanction. Under this sanctions procedure, operators who fail to comply may be fined – Playboy TV was fined £100,000 for similar breaches in 2013 – or have their right to provide a service suspended, as happened in relation to the service Jessica Pressley last year.
ATVOD Chief Executive Pete Johnson said the body had made good progress in ensuring that UK operators of regulated VoD services complied with rules designed to protect children from harmful content, but was not complacent and would continue to monitor relevant services and act as required. “Our enforcement activity sends a clear message that UK providers of hardcore pornography on demand must take effective steps to ensure that such material is not accessible to under-18’s. Asking visitors to a website to click an ‘I am 18’ button or enter a date of birth or use a debit card is not sufficient – if they are going to offer explicit sex material they must know that their customers are 18, just as they would in the ‘offline’ world”, he stated.
ATVOD counsels against complacency. Most websites which allow UK children to access hardcore pornography operate from outside the UK and therefore fall outside ATVOD’s remit. ATVOD Chair Ruth Evans said its recent research – For Adults Only? – highlighted both the sheer scale of underage access to adult websites and the extent to which such websites are based overseas. “200,000 UK children under 16 were found to have accessed an adult website from a PC or laptop in December 2013, but almost all the websites visited were operated from abroad. ATVOD has no power to require services based outside the UK to protect children from hardcore pornography. We will continue to work with policy makers and other stakeholders to investigate ways in which UK children might be better protected from porn websites operating from other countries, which may be unregulated,” she declared.
Such websites often offer free content as a ‘shop window’ to attract subscription payments. Over the past year, ATVOD has worked with the UK payments industry – including MasterCard, Visa Europe, PayPal, UK Cards Association, the Payments Council and the British Bankers’ Association – to design a process which would enable payments to be prevented to foreign services which allow children to view hardcore pornography.
This initiative was welcomed by Home Office Minister Damian Green who previously confirmed that the Government supported the work that the Authority had undertaken. “This will explore with UK financial institutions and card companies the possibility of declining to process payments to websites operating outside the European Union which allow under-18s in the UK to view explicit pornographic content,” he advised.
The payments industry has now made clear that to put such a process into place there would need to be clarity that foreign websites which allow children to view hardcore porn are acting in breach of UK law. The payments industry has therefore proposed a licensing scheme – similar to that being introduced for foreign gambling websites – as the best way of providing the necessary clarity. ATVOD and representatives of the UK payments industry discussed the initiative with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) earlier in May 2014 and DCMS is currently considering the feasibility of the licensing proposal. An Opposition amendment which would introduce such a licensing regime has been tabled to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, currently at Report stage.