No super-kinky web smut please, we're British

One in the eye for ISPs, which will be asked to block streams of stuff legal to do but too dirty to watch


Film censors in the United Kingdom will be able to ban Brits from accessing websites that stream especially kinky X-rated videos, if a proposed change in the law gets up.

The Digital Economy bill, which is due to penetrate the statute books in early 2017, is set to include a provision that will allow the British Board of Film Classification to order internet service providers to block webpages that feature non-conventional sex acts – basically anything that you can't sell on a porno DVD in the UK, you won't be able to watch online either.

If this sounds familiar, it is: from 2014 onwards, Blighty's Audiovisual Media Services Regulations forbid smut vid websites from violating UK obscenity laws: if you can't legally flog a DVD featuring a particular naughty sex act in Blighty, you can't stream it online to Brits either.

Now the forthcoming Digital Economy Act takes the hard crackdown to broadband providers, requiring ISPs to block sites that fall foul of the British film classification board. The bill contains a provision that requires online porn slingers to verify the age of their UK-based gawpers. The age of a site's visitor must be sufficient for the webpage's classification in order to view the material – but if the page cannot be classified because it's too strong for the film censors, then age verification cannot be completed and access must be denied.

ISPs will be required to block pornography websites that do not perform age verification or are not classified. If ISPs refuse, they face stiff fines.

According to the notes attached to the bill's amendments:

This new clause enables the age-verification regulator to require internet service providers to prevent persons in the United Kingdom from being able to access material on the internet where it is being made available in contravention of clause 15(1) or is “prohibited material” as defined in clause 22.

The measures are being touted as a way to keep harmful content from children, and to ensure that children are not exploited. But campaigners are worried it's also the start of a slippery slope.

"It should not be the business of government to regulate what kinds of consensual adult sex can be viewed by adults," said Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, told The Guardian.

While the BBFC doesn't have explicit guidelines on what is acceptable or not, years of regulating pornographic DVDs does give an inkling of what the censors would deem acceptable or otherwise. The 1958 Obscene Publications Act is also used as a reference point for the BBFC.

Based on past experience, male ejaculation is fine, but female ejaculation isn't allowed. Spanking or caning that leaves a visible mark is out, as well as anything involving urination, face sitting, menstrual blood, or sex in public. The fact that these acts are largely legal for those 16 and over doesn't enter into the calculations.

"In making this assessment, we will apply the standards that we apply to pornography that is distributed offline," a BBFC spokeswoman said. "If a website fails on either of these [age verification or obscene content] tests, then a notification of non-compliance will be sent to the site."

Under the amendment, pornographic providers can get a hard time from the BBFC's non-compliance notices. Thrusting fines of up to $250,000 or five per cent of turnover can be issued to British porn sites and overseas firms can be blocked from accepting payments via Visa or MasterCard from UK viewers.

We've asked various American pornography purveyors for comment but they appear to be keeping their heads down. ®

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