Complete Guide to the New Pornography Regulations in the UK

Complete Guide to the New Pornography Regulations in the UK

Last week on Tuesday 1 December, the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 (AMVS Regs) came into force. These Regulations impose a number of restrictions on the way in which pornography is created, produced and distributed in the UK. A variety of sex acts commonly depicted in porn have been banned from content that is produced and sold online in the UK. There has been much controversy surrounding the ban and a great deal of confusion as to how this will affect different parties involved.


So, here we give a quick guide to what the changes are, how they work and who they will affect – entirely uncensored.

How has the law changed?

The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 amended the Communications Act 2003, effectively banning a list of sex acts.

Instead of explicitly banning the acts however, the regulations demand that online paid-for video-on-demand (VoD) porn is regulated by the same guidelines as DVD pornography set out by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). This means that all online paid-for video-on-demand (VoD) porn must adhere to R18 video standards.

This means that acts that would not be classified as an R18 rating are prohibited.

Why has it been changed in this way?

The government made the change in an attempt to protect minors from 'harmful content'. The law itself is derived from an EU Directive.

Where law is created at a European level to be implemented in EU countries it is called a "Directive". Directives can be implemented by the Member States in different ways as long as the protection given is no less than the Directive provides for. Directives are implemented by Regulations – these set out how the Directive is to be implemented.

The EU AVMS Directive provided that content that "might seriously impair minors" must be restricted in order to protect those aged under 18.

Ofcom, the UK regulator considered research by the EU Members States however their findings are contrary to the intentions of the Directive. Ofcom held:

"No country found evidence that sexually explicit material harms minors".

This means that the UK would either have to conduct their own research into harmful content or find a way to seemingly implement the Directive without having to discuss and establish the type of content that 'might seriously impair minors'.

The easy way it seems was just to go with what was already there and apply the guidelines for shop bought pornography to that which is purchased online.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said:

"The legislation provides the same level of protection to the online world that exists on the high street in relation to the sale of physical DVDs. In a converging media world these provisions must be coherent and the BBFC classification regime is a tried and tested system of what content is regarded as harmful for minors."

What is now banned?

The AVMS Regs apply only to Video on Demand (VoD) services. Video on Demand services give customers a choice of specific video content and allows them to view the content and then view it at a time convenient to them. A good example is Channel 4's 4oD or BBC iplayer.

Services like this are regulated by a quango called the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) alongside Ofcom. The ATVOD restricts the type of sexual content that can be provided to consumers by UK VoD providers to the R18 classification level.

The specific acts that are now effectively prohibited as a result of the change are:

  1. Spanking
  2. Caning
  3. Aggressive whipping
  4. Penetration by any object "associated with violence"
  5. Physical or verbal abuse (regardless of if consensual)
  6. Urolagnia (known as "water sports")
  7. Role-playing as non-adults
  8. Physical restraint
  9. Humiliation
  10. Female ejaculation
  11. Strangulation
  12. Facesitting
  13. Fisting

The BBFC views the final three in the list as potentially "life-endangering". Otherwise, no real guidance is given as to why the other acts are banned between consensual adults.

From the mainstream media coverage it would seem as if the government discussed the many acts that may be depicted in pornography and consciously determined each of these acts to be harmful. As entertaining as those debates would have been this is not the case – they simply adopted what was already in place for DVD pornography.

However, the approach is particularly strict as the ATVOD's regulatory authority to restrict certain acts is given by the European AVMS Regulations, which apply to 'TV-like' services. This means that in order to be subject to regulation,
the video content must be similar to broadcast television.

Most European countries do not classify VoD services as 'TV-like' allowing them to be free from such regulation. This makes the UK one of the most restrictive interpreters of the Regulations and may be seriously harming trade and industry by being out of line with the common EU interpretation.

Can I still view pornography of this typed filmed elsewhere?

Quite simply, yes. Anyone wishing to access videos online of the acts listed above are still free to watch films from abroad. The restrictions only apply to videos produced in the UK and thus only fans of specifically British porn will be seriously affected.

What are the practical consequences of the ban?

The main practical consequences will be for producers of UK pornography, the bans may impose an unnecessary trade barrier forcing them to move to a less restrictive jurisdiction or shut down. This could also result in a loss of revenue for the Treasury.

What will happen if I watched the type of banned pornography?

Nothing. The regulations target the producers of adult films and thus watching recently banned content will have no implications according to Myles Jackman, a UK-based obscenity lawyer.

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