British High Court to Rule on Internet Adult Video Sales

Jeff Berg
LONDON — Britain’s High Court is hearing arguments Wednesday in a case that may decide whether adult videos and DVDs may be sold by Internet merchants in the United Kingdom.

The case revolves around several licensed British businesses that were fined thousands of pounds by Liverpool City Council’s trading standards department for supplying and offering to supply adult videos on their websites.

In the underlying cases, both Interfact Ltd. and Pabo Ltd. were found guilty of violating the U.K.’s 1984 Video Recordings Act, which restricts the sale of adult videos to individuals over 18.

Though neither company is accused of selling the films to minors, district judges ruled in both of the initial cases that the companies were guilty because the recordings act allows only for the sale of adult material to customers “in person” and not over the Internet.

Arguments in court Wednesday followed a similar vein, with both the prosecution and defense agreeing that videos like “Bikers’ Gang Bang” and “Top Marks for Effort” could be sold legally in licensed shops.

The two sides diverged on Internet sales, though, with the defense arguing that restricting British companies from selling adult films over the Internet gave an unnatural advantage to internationally located rivals and caused the local economy to suffer.

“The only purpose which such an interpretation of the law would serve would be to damage the local economy in favor of the economy in France or the Netherlands,” said David Pannick, representative for Interfact. “We say that to prohibit mail order sales for videos which are accepted by the regulatory body to be appropriate for viewing by adults would breach [the right to freedom of expression clause] of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Liverpool’s trading standards officers argued that, because the address of the buyer was effectively the point of supply, sales over the Internet were unlawful.

Because the stores were fined not only for supplying the adult videos but also for “offering to supply” them, defense attorneys are also raising the issue of whether Internet websites constitute offers to supply.

The prosecution argued that every time an Internet user visited a website that allowed the purchase of adult videos, it constituted an offense, but the defense contended that websites were no different than displays that customers might view before making an “offer to buy,” a concept that applies to many shop displays and mail order catalogues in the U.K. legal system.

The underlying cases are Interfact Limited vs. Environmental Health And Trading Standards Division, CO/2652/2004, and Pabo Ltd vs. Liverpool City Council, CO/3403/2004.