Video Recordings Act Erased
 VRA was not properly enacted
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25th August
2009
  

Video Recordings Act Erased...

1984 Act governing video censorship was never properly enacted

Shock Horror T he discovery of a Whitehall blunder means that the 1984 law regulating the video industry was never enacted.

The disclosure that for 25 years the Video Recordings Act governing the classification and sale of videos, video games and now DVDs was never brought into force is a big embarrassment to both Conservative and Labour governments.

It also leaves the industry in disarray with the classification system no longer officially in operation.

Police and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs are to be told to stop bringing any prosecutions until the Government brings in emergency legislation to re-enact the 1984 Video Recordings Act. Until then people will be able to sell videos, including violent and pornographic ones, to people without fear of prosecution.

The video industry was stunned by the Government's admission that the Act was not properly enacted 25 years ago. Officials in the Home Office had failed to notify the European Commission of the existence of the Act as they were required to do so under an EU directive.

The mistake was not spotted on two subsequent occasions, in 1993 and 1994. It was finally discovered during plans to update the law and introduce a new video-game classification system.

Barbara Follett, Minister for Culture and Tourism, said last night: Unfortunately, the discovery of this omission means that, a quarter of a century later, the Video Recordings Act is no longer enforceable against individuals in United Kingdom courts. In a letter to representatives of the video industry, Follett said: As the then British Government did not notify the European Commission of the VRA's classification and labelling requirements, they cannot now be enforced against individuals in UK courts.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that it had received legal advice that people who had previously been prosecuted and convicted would be unable to overturn their convictions or seek compensation. [Sounds like bollox to me, how can you not fail to overturn a conviction for a law that was not enacted].

The British Video Association said that it is urging members to continue submitting work to the British Board of Film Classification and to continue labelling them under the system.

 

27th August
2009
  

Offsite: Another Fine Mess...

Julian Petley on the VRA debacle

Index on Censorship logo Legislate in haste, repent at leisure that, most assuredly, is the lesson of the really quite extraordinary news that the Video Recordings Act 1984 was never referred to the European Commission, was thus never officially enacted and now cannot be enforced.

The reason why the Act should have been referred to the European Commission is because it constitutes a restraint on intra-EU trade, in that it entails that videos/DVDs which have not been certificated by the BBFC cannot legally be imported from another EU country and then sold or rented in the UK.

The DCMS has said that it has received legal advice that people who have been found guilty under the Act would be unable to overturn their convictions or seek compensation. But this is quite simply whistling in the dark.Keith Vaz is surely entirely correct in asserting that if the Act has never been brought into force, prosecutions under it are void. You cannot prosecute someone and convict them on the basis of legislation that has never been in force. If I was one of the unfortunate victims of this un-enacted Act, I would most certainly be consulting m'learned friends without further ado.

The government has made it clear that it intends to re-enact the legislation. However, rather than letting them simply rubber stamp this non-Act and proceed as if nothing has happened, would this not be the perfect opportunity to engage, finally, in a sensible debate about video regulation, a debate which was quite impossible in the over-heated and febrile atmosphere of 1984 and 1994?

...Read the full article

 

27th August
2009
  

Update: A Flood of Unclassified Cover Ups...

Barbara Follett tried to keep the lid on the VRA being erased from UK law

DCMS logo Wikileaks has published a letter sent from UK Parliament Under Secretary Barbara Follett MP to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC.

The letter is dated 24th of August 2009 and is informing Public Prosecutions of an issue that has risen in relation to the Video Recordings Act 1984, which appears to be that offences under the Act are unenforceable, and existing investigations should not be continued.

After explaining the situation, Follett in an obvious attempt to suppress a spreading public knowledge about this issue asks DPP to consider carefully what reasons are given to the court in relation to any discontinuations, fearing the market could be flooded with unclassified DVDs.

 

28th August
2009
  

Updated: Side Splitting...

Calls for the VRA to be consigned to the dustbin of history

  We really need to bring back
weekly collections!

I almost split my sides laughing, until I recalled that for a quarter of a century people have been flung in prison for crimes that never existed. I hope that the government ends up paying massive compensation. As far as my taxes are concerned, it's a worthier cause than bombing Afghans, or prosecuting prostitutes' maids for "controlling" them.

We Brits need to wake up top what our control freak government is doing. Every time some nutter whinges about the opening of a sex shop, we need to point out that such shops are only necessary because of the (illegal) VRA. If M. LeBrun, Herr Braun and Sig. Bruni want a naughty film, they can buy it from a mainstream shop or by mail order, while Mr Brown is obliged (or, it appears, not obliged) to skulk into a sex shop in a sub-prime shopping area.

I suggest that all Melon Farmers write to their MPS asking for this nonsense to be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

From Alan (writing from a civilised country, where the station bookstall has a range of mucky films available to commuters)

Extra Laws

27th August 2009 by Jon Williams, See article from pleasedsheep.com

The 1984 VRA has turned into rather a mess.

The Girl Next Door Unrated As the Act was written a long time before DVD's and DVD extras, it's all a matter of interpretation as to what, besides the actual film, needed to be classified. In my book audio commentaries would be exempt, but the BBFC tells you that 'Our lawyers suggest that these require classification'. And what about 'the making of...' documentaries, interviews with cast and crew members and so on. Ask the BBFC and they reply with, "It's our job to classify things, it's up to you what you send us, we can't tell you what the law is - look at the Act". I did, and I discovered that it's policed by Trading Standards who only act in response to a complaint. Their concern is actually more with pirate copies. So I put the question to a cross section of Trading Standards departments as to what was exempt when it came to DVD extras. And I got a lot of different replies, ranging from nothing is exempt, to everything other than deleted scenes is. And then others pointed out that the film's classification applies to the whole DVD, so if it's an '18' then the extras can't be separately classified as they've got an '18' by default. What's more they couldn't imagine anyone complaining about any extras not having been classified (how would they know) but they would complain if any of the extras went way beyond the film's classification. Of course none of them wanted me to quote them, on the grounds that only a judge could make any legal interpretations. But I did get the impression that, provided the filmmakers included appropriate extras, they had more important things to be getting on with.

Right now, for the next few months, all this has been made irrelevant. But it is a golden opportunity to push for some sensible reforms, such as the introduction of 'unrated-18' which would bring us into line with the US as well as several other civilised countries.

Help for Small Circulation DVDs

27th August 2009. From John, see also www.myspace.com/julianmarshiii

Titus Andronicus in Inuit An idea that may have appeal even to MPs who don't care about censorship issues...

If I make a film - or even want to release one from the decades ago - I have to obtain a certificate (except for a few special cases - innocuous documentaries and music videos). And that will cost me over £1,000 for a feature length film.

As a new and unknown film maker I may sell only 250 copies of my film (an adaptation of Shakespeare say - and not a Bard Nasty like TITUS ANDRONICUS but an innocuous tale like ROMEO AND JULIET with its street sword fights and under-age lust and... well, maybe one of his other ones *grin*). That means £4 or more has to be added to the final sale price merely to pay the BBFC.

Isn't this a choke on creativity? But aren't we always being told that our creative industries are worth billions to the economy?

The VRA is quite clearly preventing limited interest productions from being seen. (This is as true for our cinematic heritage as it is for new titles. What, for example, is the expected sales figure for a DVD of a silent film, I wonder? Considering the limited appeal, I'd imagine that the BBFC fee makes up a significant proportion of the cost of getting it to market.)

Offsite: Could the UK Video Recordings Act of 1984 get any more useless?

28th August 2009. See article from spiked-online.com by Graham Barnfield

Spiked logo The bottom line is that criminal law needs to butt out of the cinema and home entertainment industries. If consenting participants in film productions emerge unharmed from the production process, then the resulting films would meet a revised, forward-looking minimum legal threshold in future. (Whether they should go ahead on aesthetic or commercial grounds is a separate issue.) This latest humiliation for the Video Recordings Act 1984 should be a chance to wipe the tape clean and treat adult viewers as adults.

...Read the full article

 

21st September
2009
  

Updated: Censor On...

BBFC explain that they are voluntarily continuing to censor according to the erased Video Recordings Act

BBFC logo The BBFC have published an unsurprising disclaimer as to why the continue to censor citing the Video Recordings Act as justification for cuts:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has notified the BBFC of a serious issue which has come to light in relation to the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA). Because the then British Government failed to notify the European Commission under the Technical Standards and Regulations Directive (83/189/EEC) of the Act, the VRA is no longer enforceable against individuals in the United Kingdom. The Government has said that its priority is to remedy this situation as soon as possible and has urged the industry in the interim to comply with the provisions of the VRA on a voluntary and best practice basis. The BBFC will continue to classify video works submitted by distributors on a voluntary basis for this period.

In these circumstances and for the time being, the information on the BBFC's website should be read in the light of the DCMS's notification.

Update: VRA 2 Set in Progress

Thanks to DoodleBug
21st September 2009. From bbfc.co.uk

BBFC logo The BBFC have now added to their comment:

The Government has set in train the actions necessary to remedy this situation as soon as possible and, as part of that process, have notified the Commission of the new draft Act and the Labelling Regulations deriving from it.

The Government has made clear to the BBFC that, once the process of re-enacting the VRA is complete, all video classification certificates issued by the BBFC since 1984 will be valid, and the legal consequences of non-compliance with the classification regime will be re-instated and enforced as vigorously as previously. Any video recording containing an unclassified video work which has been released in the interim period will need to be withdrawn from sale once the new Act is in force, unless the work can claim exemption.

The Government has therefore urged the industry in the interim to comply with the provisions of the VRA on a voluntary and best practice basis. The BBFC will continue to classify video works submitted by distributors on a voluntary basis for this period.

 

8th October
2009
  

Update: Free Trade Restrictions Notified...

Government target 11th December to enact the Video Recordings Act

DCMS logo The buzz is that the UK Government lodged the Video Recordings Act with the European Commission on 11th September 2009 such that the Act will finally come into force on 11th December 2009.

 

18th November
2009
  

Update: VRA Cloned...

Government sees DVD censorship as public service to ensure legality

DCMS logo Read the government's laughable big brother response to the Campaign to Reform the VRA's letter!

Thank you and your co-signatories for your email of 3 November to Sion Simon, about the Video Recordings Act 1984. I have been asked to reply to you.

As you are aware it has recently come to light that certain provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA) and the labelling Regulations made under it should have been notified to the European Commission in accordance with the Technical Standards Directive (83/189/EEC). We have now notified the necessary provisions and the Regulations made under it and therefore we will be in a position to rectify this problem as soon as possible.

The Government has no plans to include an amendment to allow the sale of 'unrated' films to 18+ adults, or to make any amendments. Our focus is on re-enacting the Bill, and the swiftest way to do that is not to make any amendments. Possible amendments must be properly considered and consulted on and the timetable on this Bill does not allow for this. In any event, the Government would not support an amendment that meant that some films were unrated. The BBFC classification is a guarantee that DVDs will not contain anything illegal. It would be impossible to ensure that that were the case were films not classified; we believe that the public has a right to that guarantee.

Yours sincerely,

Gemma Hersh Public Engagement and Recognition Unit

Comment: Big Brother Government

From Jonathan

Big Brother ends up saying: The BBFC classification is a guarantee that DVDs will not contain anything illegal. It would be impossible to ensure that that were the case were films not classified; we believe that the public has a right to that guarantee .

In that case shouldn't the government have the right to classify all books, magazines, CDs, and so on in order to guarantee that they will not contain anything illegal . And I presume they mean by that anything covered by the current laws of libel, obscenity, incitement and so on?

The BBFC is not staffed by judges. They are not qualified to judge whether anything is illegal or not! Their function is simply to protect minors from unsuitable material. They even freely admit that they do not make cuts in 18 films if it's porn they'll rate it R18? as this would contravene European Human Rights legislation on freedom of speech. Hence there would be no difference between an '18? and an 'unrated-18?. In both cases any question of the legality of the content is nothing to do with the BBFC, only the judiciary.

Reading the reply really does make my flesh creep! Oh yes, you might be interested to know that the VRA is actually policed by Trading Standards who, outside of whether it's a pirate DVD or not, are in no position to judge the legality of the content.

In fact my own researches have shown that by the way in which many Trading Standards officers interpret the Video Recordings Act the BBFC routinely oversteps the mark by suggesting that they have to classify all content on a DVD. I myself queried the BBFC on what they would do about classifying any text files, such as a copy of the script, included in a collection of DVD extras. Their reply was that they were sure that they could come up with a way of doing that and presumably charging for it as well!

 

20th December
2009
  

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Replacement video recordings law starts in parliament

House of Commons logoThe Video Recordings Bill 2010 had a first reading in parliament on 15th December. No debate was scheduled.

The bill doesn't seem to include any changes from the previous Video Recordings Act 1984.

The Bill will be fast tracked through parliament and the Adult Industry Trade Association suggest that it will be in place by the end of January 2010.

 

7th January
2010
  

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Replacement video recordings law completes in the Commons

House of Commons logoThe Video Recordings Bill was presented to Parliament on 15 December 2009. There was no debate on the Bill at this stage.

This Bill completed all Parliamentary stages in the House of Commons on 6 January 2010 without opposition and has now passed to the House of Lords for consideration.

Summary of the Bill:

The Bill repeals and revives, without amendment, the Video Recordings Act 1984. Its purpose is to rectify a procedural error made during the passage of the 1984 Act, thereby making the age-rated classification and supply controls contained in that Act enforceable in UK courts. The Bill would also allow the 1984 Act to be amended by the Digital Economy Bill 2009-10.

Video Recordings Bill:

1 Repeal and revival of provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984

(1) On the commencement of this Act, sections 1 to 17, 19, 21 and 22 of the Video Recordings Act 1984 (regulation of the distribution of video recordings)

(a) cease to be in force, and

(b) having been notified to the European Commission in accordance with the Technical Standards Directive on 10 September 2009, come into force again by virtue of this subsection.

(2) In subsection (1) the Technical Standards Directive means Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations.

(3) The Schedule to this Act contains transitional provision.

2 Short title, commencement and extent

(1) This Act may be cited as the Video Recordings Act 2010.

(2) This Act comes into force on the day on which it is passed.

(3) This Act extends to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

11th January
2010
  

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Commons debate replacement VRA

Keith VazThe Video Recordings Bill completed all Parliamentary stages in the House of Commons on 6 January 2010 without opposition and has now passed to the House of Lords for consideration.

During the short debate Keith Vaz got a few whinges in:

Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour) :

Does the Minister intend, in his speech, to touch on the Byron review and the Government's commitment to prevent violent video games falling into the hands of young people? Are the Government still committed to the conclusions of Byron? Will the recommendations be implemented in full? When will the Digital Economy Bill come before the House? It deals with all the other issues that the Minister cannot deal with in the context of the present Bill.

Siôn Simon (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media and Sport; Birmingham, Erdington, Labour):

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is a tireless advocate of his views on the subject. Yes, the Government are committed to Byron and to child safety. The work of the Internet Watch Foundation and the Department for Children, Schools and Families-led group that has been set up in an unprecedented way across Government to look at all child safety issues online is very important, groundbreaking and central to what the Government are doing. As my right hon. Friend knows, those are matters not for today, but for the Digital Economy Bill, which is now in another place.

Keith Vaz: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me a second time. He talked about the boxed games. One of the concerns is that when people buy video games, there is not sufficient notice on those games that they have adult content, which is central to what the Video Recordings Bill hopes to do-to ensure proper enforcement. Is there anything in the proposal or in any measure that the Government propose to introduce in the near future that will ensure that when retailers sell such games, it is clear that they have adult content-that is, by increasing the very small notification on the box that it is an adult game?

Siôn Simon: As my right hon. Friend knows, child safety, boxed games, and good information that is readily understandable by the public when adult content is included in games or DVDs are central to our approach and to the Byron recommendation that content should be clearly labelled and that content unsuitable for children should not be made available for children.

However, that is not a matter for today. None of the provisions that we are discussing today in this short two-clause Bill will affect that in any way. The size of the rating symbols on the boxes is a subject which I know my right hon. Friend and I will discuss at length in the Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill. I look forward to that, but it is not something that I should be diverted into discussing today.

And on the subject of exempting games and sports videos from censorship:

Edward Vaizey (Shadow Minister (Arts), Culture, Media and Sport; Wantage, Conservative):

There is some concern that music and sports videos remain exempt from classification. Again, that exemption could have been removed in a draft submitted to the European Commission. There is overwhelming support for removing the exemptions. There is not a shred of logic or intellectual credibility to keeping music and sports videos exempt. Why should something be exempt just because it is of a particular genre? As I said to the right hon. Member for Leicester, East, we are worried about inappropriate content being distributed to minors and adults. Whether it is in a video game, DVD, film, a music video or something related to sport is irrelevant. The exemption is bizarre. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees-he is nodding.

Keith Vaz: I do not agree that we are talking about the same thing. A film with inappropriate content is not interactive. The point about video games, which is backed up by research from America, is that the player is part of the process. Players shoot and stab people in a video game, and that is different. I accept that inappropriate content is wrong, wherever it is found, but video games are different.

Edward Vaizey: I continue to assume that the right hon. Gentleman is against hardcore pornography and offensive content. For example, a video by the band Slipknot, which includes self-mutilation by teenagers, remains unclassified. Before we get into a debate on censorship, I am not saying that that content cannot be viewed by responsible adults, or that the video by Motley Cre, which depicts a George Bush lookalike with a prostitute, could not be viewed by responsible 18-year-olds. However, I think that all hon. Members agree that it should not be viewed by a 10-year-old, and should therefore be classified so that parents know, if their 10 or 11-year-old comes home saying, I've got the latest Motley Cre video exactly what it could contain. It is extraordinary that music and sports videos are exempt. We will continue to press for the removal of that exemption. However, we are where we are; the Bill has been introduced in its current form and we do not intend to stand in its way.

...

To pick up on the comments of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East about the Byron report, which focuses on keeping children safe in a digital world, I am genuinely interested in the Under-Secretary's thoughts about how and whether content should be regulated online. As he knows, an increasing number of video distributors submit their films for classification to the BBC for an online rating, but obviously more unscrupulous dealers do not do that. The legislation does nothing to ensure that there are any sanctions against people who distribute videos online.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East, Labour):

...

My second point is about the general debate concerning video games. I am keen not to stray beyond the measures of the Video Recordings Act 1984, but there were some very interesting comments from the Front Benches about their commitment to ensuring that the thriving and innovative video games industry in the United Kingdom, and particularly in London, survives. I am not against what is being proposed, and I have never been in favour of censorship; I have always been very clear that those who are aged 18-plus should be able to buy and watch whatever video games they want. Those who are not sufficiently old should not be able to do so, however, and those retailers who are prosecuted under this Act must be dealt with very severely indeed.

I say that because I disagree with the hon. Member for Wantage, in that I do not believe that watching a film is the same as participating in a video game. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have very young grandchildren, and I have children aged 14 and 12. A huge amount of research has been done on the issue, and it has been found that a half of all eight to 11-year-olds use the internet without adult supervision. I do not know how many Members present have children or grandchildren aged between eight and 11, but it is a real worry that a half of those in that age group are not supervised by adults when using the internet.

Some parents take the home computer out of their children's rooms and put it in a room where everyone has access to it so that they can watch over what their children are doing online. Parents have different ways of dealing with that issue, but the fact is that watching a violent film is different from participating in a video game. If a young person gets hold of Modern Warfare 2 , for example, they will be asked to participate in a terrorist attack; they will be asked to shoot at civilians in Moscow airport as part of the game. That is why the Russian Government have banned Modern Warfare 2 ; they felt that in an age when we are trying to educate our children about the need to understand the dangers of extreme violence, we should not place in their hands, under the guise of entertainment, games that allow them to act in a violent way.

I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about the Digital Economy Bill coming before this House soon, and it is always the hope of Ministers that such Bills will come to the House from the other place quickly, but I have counted that we have just 35 working days from now until 31 March. Nobody knows when the next general election will be held, of course, but there are only 35 complete working days in which legislation can be addressed in this House.

John Whittingdale (Maldon & East Chelmsford, Conservative):

The right hon. Gentleman refers to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 . It is already rated 18 and therefore it is already illegal to sell it to somebody who is under age, without the Digital Economy Bill needing to be passed. I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on the necessity of passing that Bill, but there are already provisions in place that prevent children from playing that game.

Keith Vaz:

...

The Byron recommendations must be implemented in full, as doing so will help to strengthen what the Government are trying to do enormously. As far as video recordings are concerned, I pay tribute to what the Government have done over the past few years. There has been a huge leap forward since I first took up this issue, along with others, after young Stefan Pakeerah, from Leicester, was stabbed to death in a park in Leicester in circumstances similar to those found in a video game watched by his killer, Warren Leblanc. I know that the judge in that case said that there was no connection, but the mother of the young boy stabbed to death felt very strongly that there was. Following subsequent meetings with two Prime Ministers and many Ministers, the Government have pushed forward on the matter.

I welcome what the Government have done, but it remains the case that any Member of the House can walk into any video store subject to the Video Recordings Act 1984, pick up a box set and see a tiny-it is still tiny-reference to the age limit for those playing the game. Through various campaigns involving people on all sides, we increased the 18 certificate sign from about the size of a 1p piece to probably the size of a 10p or, possibly, 50p piece. Actually, we have always said that, as with cigarette packets, splashed across the front of a violent video game should be the fact that it has adult content-and good luck to over-18s who wish to buy it! That would bring the fact to the attention of retailers who might, sometimes inadvertently, sell the game to someone under the age of 18.

I was interested to hear the statistics put forward by the hon. Member for Wantage on the number of stores that have been prosecuted. I have been after those statistics for some time. They are good news. The last time some mystery shopping was done-Trevor McDonald on one of his ITV programmes sent in a load of under-18 mystery shoppers-they were sold video games for over-18s, but the stores were not prosecuted. I welcome the fact that the figures are quite high. We are going through the bother of trying to get the Bill through quickly, and we should send out a message that legislation passed by the House will be implemented and that those who break the law will be prosecuted.

Don Foster (Bath, Liberal Democrat):

...

I share the concern expressed by the current shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr. Hunt, about DVDs and videos relating to sport, religion and music that do not carry ratings but which often contain material that many of us would think inappropriate, in particular for sale to young people. Such videos include self-mutilation, erotic dancing, sex toys, drug use and so on.

The Minister's officials have made clear a point that was not picked up by the hon. Member for Wantage. They have said:

Music, sports or religious videos lose their exemption from classification if they depict sexual activity, mutilation, gross violence or other practices likely to cause offence, and that in those circumstances, it is for the appropriate enforcement authorities to take action.

The implication is that there is no need for an amendment, because other bits of legislation could be used to prosecute people distributing such material. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that issue, because it is one that those in probably all parts of the House want to be resolved. My concern is to find out the means by which it is going to be resolved, or whether the Minister believes, as his officials appear to be saying, that there is no problem and that action can be taken under existing legislation.

And on the subject of online distribution:

John Whittingdale:

...

I wish to make a few observations about the Video Recordings Act 1984. I always approach any such legislation with some suspicion, as I am fundamentally opposed to censorship. I believe that in a free society it is up to adults to choose what they wish to see, but there are two important qualifications to that. The first is that there will always be some material that is so unacceptable in its violent or explicitly sexual content that it is deemed to be damaging to people to view it. I accept that, and some examples have been given in the debate.

I shall return to that matter, but perhaps more important is the fact that while adults are free to choose, we have always accepted that children require protection. I join right hon. and hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of the BBFC. It is in the area of age classification that some of the most difficult decisions have to be taken. The film that required perhaps more cuts than any other, some time ago now, was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , because the distributor was keen that it should be given a certificate that meant children were able to see it. The BBFC felt that it contained inappropriate material, and there was lengthy negotiation. A lot of the controversy about films such as The Dark Knight and Casino Royale is about whether they should appropriately be a 12 or a 15.

The virtue of the 1984 Act was that it extended that protection, which already existed in cinemas, to viewing in the home. The Minister gave the statistics on the extent to which viewing in the home has taken off in the past 20 years. When the Act was originally introduced back in 1984, it was accompanied by a degree of what one can only call hysteria about video nasties, and it is worth reflecting on what has happened to some of the most notorious examples of films that were widely cited at that time.

The then Minister, Mr. David Mellor, named three films in the course of the debate. The first was The Driller Killer , which was banned after the passage of the 1984 Act but then released uncut in 2002, and last night I checked and found that it is available on Amazon for £3.98. The second was Zombie Flesh Eaters . That, too, was banned under the Act but then released uncut in 2005 and can now be found on Amazon at £5.98. The third was I Spit On Your Grave , which was also on the list of prosecutable movies until 2001 but was then released, although with substantial cuts made by the BBFC, and is now widely available. Perhaps the most remarkable example is a film that was on the Director of Public Prosecution's list of films that were banned, Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead , which at the time was regarded as wholly unacceptable but, indicating how tastes change, two years ago was given away free with copies of The Sun as a promotional move.

There is no question but that tastes change and that we have become more liberal, which I welcome. However, as I said, there will always be films that go beyond what is generally regarded as acceptable. The Minister mentioned one particular film, Grotesque . Two films were banned by the BBFC in 2008. The first was Murder-Set-Pieces , described as having scenes in which a psychopathic sexual serial killer...is seen raping, torturing and murdering his victims .

The second has the unlikely title of The Texas Vibrator Massacre -I leave its contents to the imagination of hon. Members. I shall return to those two films in a moment.

My hon. Friend Mr. Vaizey made the important point that there are loopholes in the existing legislation, which existed for good reasons at the time. It was not regarded as possible that a video concerning music or sport could be unacceptable. That loophole has undoubtedly been exploited. I hosted a dinner that the BBFC gave in the House just before Christmas, at which it showed us examples of some of the material that is now available in music videos and sports games that does not require certification because of the loophole in the 1984 Act. I understand why the Government did not feel able to address that matter in the Bill, but I share the wish that has been expressed that the loophole should be closed, and I hope that it will be in the Digital Economy Bill.

The second main point that I wish to make is that at the time of the passage of the 1984 Act, the world was completely different. Mr. Graham Bright, the Member who moved Second Reading, said that he defined a video recording as a video tape or video disc. It is thus a physical product. -[ Hansard, 11 November 1983; Vol. 48, c. 525.]

Of course, it is now not necessarily a physical product. More and more video is being made available through online distribution, which at the time perhaps could not even have been conceived. We are seeking to address that through moves such as those by the BBFC to impose a voluntary system of regulation, but the films that we are concerned about are now very widely available. I return to the two that I mentioned, Murder-Set-Pieces and The Texas Vibrator Massacre . I checked last night and found that both those films are widely available through file sharing sites. An internet search for either with the words download or bit torrent will bring up any number of sites from which one can obtain them. Equally, they are available through cyberlockers. Both are on Megaupload and RapidShare and can be accessed without any attempt to verify the age of the person downloading them. There is serious concern about how we can continue to protect young people when it is now so easy to obtain such films.

We will debate the matter at greater length when we come to the measures against piracy through illegal file sharing that the Government are proposing to take in the Digital Economy Bill. It is worth remembering that it is not just protection of copyright that is at stake when we consider file sharing. There is equally the concern that it is being used to circumvent the protections that the House has put in place. In the most extreme cases, as I am sure the Minister will be aware, child pornography is being widely distributed through illegal file sharing. That is another reason why I share with other hon. Members the view that it is important that we get the Digital Economy Bill on to the statute book.

Having said that, I agree with the Minister that the majority of distribution of video content will still be through physical product for the foreseeable future, so it is certainly important that the Bill should be passed today and that we should reinstate the protections that we thought were already in place. However, there is a danger that we will be seen to be bolting the front door when the back door is wide open, and we will have to consider that in future.

That leads me to the more general conclusion that I suspect that there is nothing that this House can do to legislate to prevent the distribution of material online from sites that may be located on the other side of the world. When we consider what it is appropriate for people to view, we must remember that that is a matter for adults to decide. The most effective means that we can have to protect children is for parents to exercise responsibility, watch carefully what their children are doing and ensure that they are not obtaining access to content that could be damaging to them. I support the Bill, but I fear that it is beginning to look increasingly old-fashioned and outmoded given the extraordinary pace of development throughout the video sector.

Siôn Simon:

...

We have already congratulated the British Board of Film Classification on the job that it does, by which we meant the job of classifying films, but I think I ought also to congratulate it on the job that it does in lobbying Members of Parliament and providing briefing for these debates. Rarely can the entire participating body in a debate have been so thoroughly and extensively briefed by a single organisation. I visited the BBFC's offices fairly recently and heard its arguments about one or two aspects that we may not see in exactly the same way, but I think we are in accord on most of the issues that Members, in their different ways, have discussed today: that is, the central issues.

...

I am not sure whether I have fully covered the question of appeals and compensation, but in the absence of further interventions, I shall proceed to answer the questions about the potential for insertion of what might be described as the PEGI clauses of the Digital Economy Bill, which introduce the PEGI European classification system for video games in this country into this Bill.

One of the fundamental reasons why the House has considered the Bill, and why Opposition parties in both Houses have indicated that they consider it appropriate to fast-track it, is that we are not amending an existing piece of legislation which has been in force for 25 years. If the two main Opposition parties had come to us in advance and said We think it important to include the PEGI clauses , we might have been able to discuss the matter, but I do not think that that happened. We needed to act swiftly, and, legitimately, to use the special fast-track procedure. Part of the reason for concertina-ing the House's usual precautionary procedures was that we were making no change whatsoever. The point is that we need to get the legislation repealed and revived so that it can be amended during the passage of the Digital Economy Bill.

...

John Whittingdale: Is it the Government's intention to accept the other amendment that has been tabled to the Digital Economy Bill, which would remove the exemption for sport and music videos?

Siôn Simon: As things currently stand, we are not minded to accept that amendment, although I am not averse to talking about it. I take note of the uniformity of view on that matter, on the Labour Benches anyway. However, I know from my recent visit to the BBFC that it takes the strong view that we should make this change, and the BBFC is very influential in these matters.

Edward Vaizey: I should remind the Minister that on Tuesday one of his own Back Benchers, Mr. Dismore, is introducing a ten-minute Bill that would bring about this exemption, so there is all-party support for it.

Siôn Simon: I take that point. I do not have a strong, dogmatic view on this. I have considered it, and on balance I have come down on the side that says that given that it is about where we draw the line, the vast majority of content in music and sport videos does not need to be classified in this way, to the extent that it would be an intolerable burden. That is a reasonable position, and that is where I stand. We are not currently minded to accept an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to that end, although I do not take a dogmatic view on it.

 

13th January
2010
  

Comment: Video Recordings Bill...

Re Commons debate replacement VRA

Keith VazThe Video Recordings Bill completed all Parliamentary stages in the House of Commons on 6 January 2010 without opposition and has now passed to the House of Lords for consideration.

Thanks to Alan:

Scarcely credible! Is it actually compulsory to be a sanctimonious twat in order to stand for parliament? Do these deeply unsavoury see-you-next-Tuesdays ever consider that no other major European country finds it necessary to have home videos approved by a censorship body?

It confirms me in my long-held belief that there's only one person to enter parliament whose motives were beyond reproach - and we remember him on the fifth of November.

 

14th January
2010
  

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Extending the VRA to Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland AssemblyTranscript from Legislative Consent Motion Executive Committee Business Northern Ireland Assembly debates, 11 January 2010

Nelson McCausland (DUP): I beg to move

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the Video Recordings Bill.

This is a short Bill that will repeal and revive certain provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984. The Bill is needed because it has recently come to light that penalties for offences under that Act are unenforceable. That is due to a failure to notify certain provisions in the 1984 Act and the labelling regulations that were made under it to the European Commission under the European Union's technical standards directive. The aim of the Video Recordings Bill is to rectify that situation.

The Video Recordings Act 1984 introduced a system of classification for video films and some video games. It created a series of offences concerning the supply of classified videos and video games to persons under certain ages. The 1984 Act also contains offences concerning the supply of unclassified material. The Act requires that videos, DVDs and certain boxed video games would be classified by the British Board of Film Classification. It makes it illegal to supply unclassified material and to supply age-restricted material to people below the specified age rating. It also limits distribution of adult films material.

Video and film classification is a transferred matter, because it is not listed in schedules 2 or 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The criminal law, and the creation of offences and penalties, remains expressly reserved under paragraph 9 of schedule 3 to the 1998 Act until the devolution of policing and criminal justice matters takes place. Without the repeal and revival of the Video Recordings Act 1984, the penalties for offences under that Act are unenforceable, and we are unable to protect the public and our children from the distribution of inappropriate and offensive material.

When passed, the Video Recordings Bill will come into force and will become the Video Recordings Act 2010. It will extend to England, Wales and Scotland, and, if the Assembly agrees to the legislative consent motion, it will extend to Northern Ireland. Consent for Northern Ireland's inclusion in the Bill has been sought from the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure and from the Executive.

Both have given their consent to proceed with the proposed Bill. The Assembly must now consider the principle of extending the Bill to Northern Ireland. We need a united approach to video and film classification across the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and to the matter of criminal offences and penalties, as well as the enforcement mechanism for those offences.

Our children and vulnerable adults must be protected. I hope that Members will agree and support the motion, which has been designed to allow a parallel timetable for delivery and to ensure that the legislation continues to be consistent across the United Kingdom.

Barry McElduff (Sinn Féin)

The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure considered the legislative consent motion on the Video Recordings Bill at its meeting on 3 December 2009. The Committee had been briefed by departmental officials on the implications of the Bill three weeks earlier on 12 November 2009.

The Committee agreed, on a without-prejudice basis, to support the motion, which will see the extension of the provisions of the Video Recordings Bill to this region. The Committee understands that the purpose of the Bill is straightforward, as the Minister outlined. Its purpose is to repeal and revive the existing provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 in order to make the criminal offences in that Act enforceable. That will mean that proper public protections are in place around the supply and classification of age-related films and video games. The Committee welcomes that move and the positive implications for protecting children and young people.

The Committee welcomes the extension of the provisions of the Video Recordings Bill to this region, and I commend the motion to the House.

..followed by supportive speeches from other parties and members...

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved: That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the Video Recordings Bill.

 

16th January
2010
  

Update: Licensed to Censor...

Bill to exempt small venues from government music censorship

pub band My bill would exempt small venues from the absurdities of the Licensing Act, which is stifling emerging artists

In November last year, Britain's Got Talent finalist Faryl Smith performed a song for her fans at an album signing at HMV in Kettering, Northamptonshire. The local council immediately threatened HMV with criminal prosecution because it hadn't applied for a licence.

Back in May, the headteacher of a school in Daventry had to scrap the annual musical when he was told he risked a £20,000 fine or even imprisonment because the school hadn't got a licence for the show.

And locals in Gloucestershire were bitterly disappointed last summer when a free brass band concert was cancelled at the last minute.

What links all these ridiculous situations is the Licensing Act, which stipulates that all live music performances need a licence, whatever the venue.

It is a result of these absurdities that I have introduced the live music bill which has just received a second reading in the House of Lords.

Small venues are vitally important to Britain's creative culture. Many of our most successful and popular musicians started their careers gigging in bars, student unions or cafes. The decrease in live music in small venues, as evidenced by the DCMS's most recent substantive survey into the act, is potentially denying us a generation of new performers.

The bill which has the support of UK Music, the Musicians Union, Equity and the National Campaign for the Arts amends the Licensing Act in three respects.

First, the bill establishes an exemption for live music in small venues. The exemption applies to a venue that has a licence for the sale of alcohol and has a permitted capacity of not more than 200 people. The live music can also only take place between 8am and midnight on the same day. This exemption is conditional on a mechanism that can trigger a local authority review and make live music in a venue licensable if complaints by local residents are upheld.

Second, the bill reintroduces the two-in-a-bar rule so that any performance of unamplified and minimally amplified live music of up to two people is exempt from the need for a licence.

Finally, the bill contains a total exemption for hospitals, schools and colleges from the requirement to obtain a licence for live music when providing entertainment where alcohol is not sold, and the entertainment involves no more than 200 persons. This will enable schools, colleges and hospitals to perform concerts and music therapy treatments which currently require licences.

The government's consultation on this issue is flawed. The proposed exemption for up to 100 people is inadequate. The live music bill, supported by the recommendation of the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee, proposes that a figure of 200 would result in a more effective exemption.

The timing of the consultation and the process by which an exemption can be achieved is also put in jeopardy by the imminent general election which means the bill presents the most realistic opportunity to get a small gigs exemption in place this year. You can demonstrate your support for the bill by signing up to the No 10 Downing Street petition in support of the bill's aims.

 

19th January
2010
  

Update: Video Recordings Bill...

Lords debate replacement on VRA

House of Lords logoThe Video Recordings Bill has received its 2nd Reading in the House of Lords on 18th January 2010. The bill was unopposed and the short debate centred on the legal status of past prosecutions.

The committee and report stages were rubber stamped with no amendments or debate

The 3rd reading is now scheduled for 20th January 2010 and the bill will then come into force immediately on Royal Assent.

 

21st January
2010
  

Update: Video Recordings Act 2010...

Passes 3rd Reading in the Lords and is set to become law

House of Lords logoThe Video Recordings Bill has received its 3rd Reading in the House of Lords on 20th January 2010.

The bill is scheduled to receive Royal Assent and come into immediate effect on 21st January.

So once again all videos and DVDs have to be vetted by state appointed censors and ludicrous restrictions, such as a ban on mail order porn, are restored.

 

23rd January
2010
  

Update: Video Recordings Act 2010...

VRA given Royal Assent and is back in force

House of Lords logoThe Video Recordings Bill was given Royal Assent as scheduled on 21st January 2010.

The law comes into force immediately.

 

15th February
2010
  

Update: Back in Business...

BBFC notification of the re-enactment of the Video Recordings Act

The BBFC have updated their website re the the re-enactment of the Video Recordings Act:

BBFC logo On 21 January 2010, the Video Recordings Bill received Royal Assent. This Bill corrects a procedural error that meant the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA) was not enforceable against individuals in UK courts. It repeals and revives the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA), restoring the public protection provided by a robust video classification system. It sets out the statutory requirement for videos, DVDs and some video games to be classified and age rated by the British Board of Film Classification.

The voluntary classification scheme the BBFC has been running since the discovery of the VRA's lack of enforceability ends with immediate effect. Henceforth, all classification certificates issued by the BBFC will be pursuant to the VRA.

The BBFC will issue replacement certificates in accordance with the VRA for all those works for which it issued certificates under the voluntary scheme between 1 September 2009 and 21 January 2010. So no customer need withdraw from sale any work for which a voluntary certificate was issued.

All classification certificates issued by the BBFC in accordance with the VRA since 1984 are valid, and remain so following Royal Assent of the Video Recordings Bill. Any video recording containing an unclassified video work which has been released in the interim period will need to be withdrawn from sale now the new Act is in force, unless the work can claim exemption.

The BBFC would like to thank its customers for complying with the provisions of the VRA by continuing to submit works to the BBFC for classification on a voluntary and best practice basis during the period of the VRA's unenforceability.

 

24th April
2010
  

Update: Interfact vs Liverpool City Council...

Expensive VRA court case revisited in light of the 1984 VRA not being enacted

Old BaileyBack in 2004 Liverpool Council Trading Substandards took action against UK companies for selling R18 DVDs via mail order.

Interfact, associated with the Private Shops chain, were handed a substantial fine.

Interfact contended that they were operating from a licensed sex shop and challenged the prosecution right up to the House of Lords where they ultimately lost their case.

Now given that the 1984 Video Recordings Act wasn't actually in force, due to government oversight, then it is hardly surprising that Interfact would like to see some of their money back.

Interfact will now revisit the case in the High Court, Queen's Bench Division on the 6th May 2010. They have made an application for an appeal out of time in the case of Interfact vs Liverpool City Council.

 

4th July
2010
  

Offsite: Is it Safe?...

Convictions stand under non-enforceable VRA

Old BaileyInterfact, associated with the UK Private Shop chain, asked the High Court for leave to make a late appeal for a conviction under the VRA.

The case was Interfact Ltd v Liverpool City Council where R18s were sold by mail order from licensed premises.

The High Court held that where defendants had been convicted of criminal offences under national legislation which was unenforceable owing to a failure by the UK to comply with a pre-enactment procedural requirement imposed by EU law, it was not incumbent upon the Court of Appeal to re-open their cases out of time unless their convictions had given rise to any substantial injustice.

The applicants sought to quash their convictions, arguing that the court was required to exercise its discretion to reopen the decision of the Divisional Court and to grant leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal out of time because the earlier decisions were contrary to EU law. They argued that failure to grant the relief sought would infringe the principle of effectiveness in EU law. They contended that because of the government's failure to notify the regulations under which they were convicted to the Commission, their convictions and punishment infringed the prohibition on retrospective punishment under Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court dismissed the applications.

...Read the full article