ATVOD Seeks Role in New U.K. Porn Directive

Aug 4, 2015 11:41 AM PST

LONDON — ATVOD today issued a press release stating that it welcomes “forthcoming consultation” on how to keep under-18s from accessing porn websites in the U.K.

The release, however, has struck a nerve with those who maintain that the regulator is trying to shoehorn additional age-verification enforcement duties that would apply to all U.K. porn sites, not just video-on-demand hardcore sites that are controlled from within the country. They are concerned that ATVOD is seeking to become the U.K.'s "official censor" over pornographic works.

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the government could force porn websites to shut down if they don’t put restrictions in place to stop under 18s viewing adult videos.

Cameron said that the U.K. online adult industry would be given the chance to install age-verification controls of its own, to ensure that children can’t see porn. But if they fail to, Cameron said the sites could be turned off entirely.

In a statement today responding to Cameron’s initiative, ATVOD said it welcomed the government’s new directive, noting that it has been “at the forefront” in maximizing the protection of minors since it was designated as the regulator of U.K. on-demand services in 2010.

“We appear to be moving towards compulsory age verification for all websites offering pornographic content — something ATVOD has been calling for some time,” ATVOD CEO Pete Johnson told XBIZ.

While today’s release noted that ATVOD has no powers in relation to services operated from outside the U.K., the agency has strongly supported initiatives designed to improve the take up of parental control software and has recommended that the government introduce laws to enable the payment industry to block the flow of funds from the U.K. to websites that allow children to access hardcore porn.

“ATVOD continues to encourage policymakers to consider how children might be better protected, and therefore welcomes the forthcoming government consultation on how best to introduce measures to further restrict under-18s’ access to pornographic websites, operated both from the U.K. and overseas,” the ATVOD release said.

But Jerry Barnett, the founder of the Sex & Censorship, told XBIZ today that the discussion over Cameron’s initiative isn’t directed for the betterment of society; it’s a tactic for wholesale censorship.

“Let's cut out the euphemisms regarding ‘age verification,’” Barnett said. "We're talking about ATVOD lobbying to become the U.K.'s official Internet censor, with the power to block sites on an industrial scale.

“These are powers that should not exist in a democratic country. Porn and terrorism are being employed by the government as the twin justifications to attack free expression at a fundamental level.”

Portland TV's Chris Ratcliff, however, said that those in the U.K. adult industry should take a diplomatic stance over the issue instead of calling the directive an attempt to censor.

“There's a lot of unhealthy misinformation and scaremongering flying around about age verification when in actual fact the industry is in a strong position to influence U.K. policy decisions,” Ratcliff told XBIZ.

“Finally we’ll see the mandatory requirement for U.K.-based porn sites to age verify their customers rolled out to all adult services irrespective of jurisdiction," Ratcliff said. "This means that European and U.S. sites will need to implement age verification if they wish to continue to access the U.K. market.

"What is interesting about the latest statement from the Prime Minister’s Office is that Cameron is still prepared to give the adult industry a chance to self-regulate and help shape the policy framework for age verification rather than resorting to the statute book. It remains to be seen whether the global industry is prepared to rise to the challenge, present a united front and bring effective solutions to the table," Ratcliff said. "Failure to do so will result in heavy-handed legislation.

"On the plus side, it’s encouraging to see key players like Mindgeek, ICM Registry, Studio 66 and Portland TV already actively engaged with U.K. policymakers and working with the Digital Policy Alliance on the development of a fast-track standard, or publically available specification (PAS), for age verification in association with the British Standards Institution. This initiative has been commended by the recently appointed Minster for Internet Safety, Baroness Shields, as “a very promising development indeed.”

"There’s still a lot to play for, but what’s crucial is that we respond coherently and constructively to the forthcoming government consultation of the future regulation of our sector.”

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