ATVOD Report Reveals Continued Focus on Foreign Porn Sites

Jul 17, 2014 11:00 AM PST

LONDON — ATVOD today released its annual report for 2013-14, detailing actions taken against those U.K. porn websites that violated Rule 11 and explaining its stance that the payments industry should prevent transactions with offending foreign sites.

The 37-page report focuses on key achievements, including fines levied against 16 U.K.-based porn companies that violated Rule 11, which requires an effective content-access control, or CAC, system that verifies that the user is 18 or over at the point of access.

It also pinpoints the regulator's continued focus: Getting the payments industry and E.U. officials on board with a plan to prevent payments flowing to foreign porn sites not employing a CAC system.

ATVOD said it had advocated a “follow the money” approach with MasterCard, PayPal and Visa Europe, but that the companies in tandem agreed that the laws on the book are murky over financially penalizing porn sites.

"In the course of those discussions, the payments industry have made clear that they would work to prevent U.K. payments to foreign websites which allow children to view hardcore porn if it was clear that such websites were operating in breach of U.K. law," ATVOD said. "However the payments industry does not consider that the illegality of such websites is sufficiently clear under current U.K. legislation."

The regulator also said that it made a submission to the European Commission arguing that the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which sets minimum standards for video-on-demand services across the E.U., be amended to require all member countries ensure that porn sites require CAC systems.

"Such a move would see adult services operating in countries such as The Netherlands required to put in place the sorts of child protection measures ATVOD requires of their U.K.-based counterparts," the regulator said.

ATVOD noted that although regulated under the same E.U. directive, "the Dutch regulatory authority does not share ATVOD’s view that hardcore pornography might seriously impair under 18s."

ATVOD said it received 560 complaints submitted by 555 individuals and by one organisation — Safer Media — during the 2013-14 fiscal year over Rule 11 and other violations, such as failing to register and license a U.K.-based VOD site.

The 560 complaints compares with 690 complaints during the previous year, a decrease of 18.8 percent. ATVOD, however, said a large number of complaints submitted were centered on billing and technical problems and that the real figure is likely 12.5 percent.

ATVOD noted that there were three appeals lodged with parent regulator Ofcom during the year, and in each of the appeals they were upheld, including those against Demand Adult and Playboy TV UK.

The Playboy TV UK and Demand Adult appeals both concerned whether editorial responsibility for the services had passed from a U.K. company to a Canadian company — Manwin (now MindGeek). The services had previously been required to pay £100,000 in fines for breaches of Rule 11.

But "the decision turned on whether Playboy TV UK still exercised 'general control' over the selection and organzation of the porn content," ATVOD said.

"The U.K. company won their appeal after providing Ofcom with significant further evidence that key parts of the operations were now being run from Canada," ATVOD said. "The success of their appeal means that the services are no longer bound by UK rules designed to protect under 18s."

"Ofcom’s appeal decisions note that 'a limited number of individuals within the U.K. business continue actively to be involved in the provision of the services' but accept that 'there was a genuine reallocation of responsibility within the corporate group.'”

In the annual report, the regulator said it plans a £562,372 budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. It said it received £507,378 in fees in 2013-14, higher than a year-ago forecast of £498,773.

The regulator noted said that it plans to recruit a second full-time policy and investigation officer in 2014-15 to counter its increased workload.

ATVOD also said that it is working on a plan to heighten its approach to progressively make more content accessible to people with disabilities affecting their sight or hearing or both.

The regulator said that it will conduct a survey of all providers over the issue this summer.

"In order to get a more complete picture, ATVOD intends to use its powers under section 368O of the Communications Act 2003 to require all service providers to complete the survey," the regulator said.

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