Cops and Throbbers: Censorship, Regulation in the U.K. Gets Underway

Ben Yates

Last year when I spoke on an adult entertainment industry panel I made a clear distinction between what I consider to be censorship and regulation, and I would urge you all to draw a similar line.

Censorship and regulation are hugely different and people welcome both, one of them or none at all.

Evidence points to a general consensus that the filter has failed — many homes have chosen to activate the filter and have actively opted out of it.

All industries are in need of some form of regulation, just as a country needs its law.

As you are all aware the U.K. has opted for the ATVOD model to regulate video on demand content, I said last year and continue to believe that we should be at the table shaping ATVOD’s remit and policies on the distribution of online adult content.

But last year, I also pointed out ATVOD’s significant flaws and standby last year’s comments on overall parental responsibility and accountability — if we are to sanction content providers I would call to also sanction parents and I still believe not enough has been done to this one-sided enforcement — parents need to take a more active role in their own education about the technology they hand over to their children.

Producers can not use, “I wasn’t aware of ATVOD, I had an over 18 statement on the splash page’ as a defense so parents should not be able to use “I don’t know anything about the Internet or how many gaping assholes are on it.”

You’ll be surprised how much I hear that comment, the first part of it at least, as a rebuttal by parents — verbally and in print. As if ignorance affords them some kind of free pass on their responsibilities to provide a safe environment for their child.

Adult producers and webmasters have naturally hit out against ATVOD and it is a war of words that has continued to this day with most still resisting the on-demand service provider or ODPS notification procedure.

Models and performers, except a notable handful, didn’t think ATVOD affected them and failed to realize that if there are fewer producers then clearly that means less work.

Some performers have found out the hard way just how ATVOD affects them too with one performer receiving perhaps the highest sanction —an order prohibiting them from running an on-demand service again. Some packed up shop and left the web space, while most found AdultWork and Clip4Sale as a quick and effective means to bypass the notification procedure.

The fact that ATVOD’s remit is to lay down the law doesn’t mean their decisions are final and you could argue that a benefit of the ATVOD model is the right to appeal a decision. Challenging ATVOD has seen some victories for producers and performers from the most recent “Urban Chick Supremacy Cell” case to early on in ATVOD’s life when the fees were astronomically high and pressure from the VOD industry made ATVOD adopt a more affordable, commercially viable tariff system.

With all the rhetoric and condemnation many industry members have focused towards the government-backed, regulatory body of ATVOD, and they have inadvertently allowed the greater threat of censorship backed by far right and ideological groups such as Object, Feminista and No More Page 3 to take hold and strengthen their lobbying efforts.

What these groups are campaigning for differs significantly to that of ATVOD and these are the groups that are the real, imminent threat to the adult industries survival in the U.K. Yet, we are doing very little to tackle the gains made by these groups in the court of public opinion and mainstream media.

It is my view that it is not censorship to say, “we don’t want children to see that so here is a set of rules, rules that the adult industry can shape and inform if they wake up to what is happening, to help prevent access to minors.” Censorship to me is to say, “I don’t like topless women with my corn flakes and don’t ever want to educate my children about their and other peoples’ bodies so I want it banned for everyone.”

The ISP filter recently activated in the U.K. is an example of almost government-backed censorship, which is a very dangerous precedent indeed. I know it makes us me sound like a raving loonie with hat made from a tin foil-covered hat, but with introduction of the filter we really are among the most censored countries in the World — up there with the Middle East, China and Russia.

Evidence points to a general consensus that the filter has failed — many homes have chosen to activate the filter and have actively opted out of it. When the ISP filter launched sites like the NSPCC and Childline were blocked; both are charitable organizations who’s mission it is to help vulnerable and abused children in the U.K. Instantly children, perhaps those in situations where they were experiencing abuse on a daily basis, instantly had a vital lifeline cut off by this joint effort by the major ISPs and the government.

Sure we have the opportunity to opt out of the “family filter” at the moment but other rulings against the likes of Google and Microsoft, such as the “Right to Be Forgotten” statute and the still-unclear extent of the British intelligence agency GCHQ’s espionage program raises some significant questions about just how much of the Internet are we not seeing and how much of what we are seeing is monitored?

Even more baffling for me to get my head around is the fact that there is no independent oversight or transparency with such blocking of content. It has been left to the great work of groups like the Open Rights Group to invest time, effort and resources into developing a system of checking whether your content has been blocked.

O2 had a tool that performed this task but it suspiciously vanished prior to the filters being introduced in 2013. It has not returned. The E.U. is even considering whether Google should be free to notify publishers of link removals as a result of a right to be forgotten request.

If anything required a system of public accountability and transparency — it has to be the content we are “allowed” to see and perhaps more importantly “the content we are not allowed to see.”

These all should be issues that compel every single citizen to campaign against, because one day it is something you dislike or not too bothered about, the next it could be the book, magazine, game, website, blog, TV channel or soap opera that you consume on a regular and enjoyable basis.

Ben Yates, founder of Pervlens Media, is an award-winning U.K.-based adult content producer and digital communications designer who has taken an active interest in defending the consumption and production of pornography, especially in the U.K.