Adult VOD business “impossible” in the UK

Posted: June 12, 2012

In a strongly worded letter, Strictly Broadband MD Jerry Barnett has informed ATVOD – the regulatory body for television on demand services – that its current interpretation of its Rules & Guidance document, published 3rd May 2012, renders it impossible to run an adult VOD site from within the UK and that he will therefore be moving that side of his business out of the UK by the end of this month.

Barnett, who is also the current chair of adult industry trade body AITA, had been invited to speak at the ATVOD Industry Forum on 23rd May and also at the ATVOD board meeting the same day where he was scheduled to present issues facing the adult industry. That latter invitation was postponed until July and he was subsequently informed by ATVOD that his business was in breach of Rule 11 [Harmful Material: Protection of Under-18s – if an on-demand programme service contains material which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen, the material must be made available in a manner which secures that such persons will not normally see or hear it].

Barnett has posted his response to ATVOD CEO Pete Johnson on the AITA website. In it he says:

“I made clear in my last letter and at the Industry Forum meeting that I would not be able to operate my VoD business within the UK if Rule 11 is imposed as you have designed and interpreted it. I consider Rule 11 to be punitive; it effectively makes it impossible to run a adult web site in the UK, even though it breaks no UK law. This raises legal implications, which will require further exploration (I’m informed that a measure similar to Rule 11 was struck down by the US Supreme Court on grounds of free speech).

Given that the issues raised in my last letter are still (in theory) under discussion, and I’ve been (I’m told verbally) invited to present these issues to the July board meeting, this raises an issue of timing: how can my VoD business be forced offshore in June while this discussion is ongoing? I therefore request that you postpone enforcement of the notice until at least after the ATVOD board meeting in July.

Please be notified that I intend to move the editorial side of the VoD business out of the UK, probably to another EU country, by the end of this month. As I’ve said previously, our VoD business is in decline, and the future focus of my operation will be on adult phone chat, webcam and other social-media services. My currently employed Content Manager is leaving my employment on 12th June.

Although my company will no longer be an ATVOD-notified ODPS, I plan to continue representing the UK adult industry at ATVOD industry forum meetings on behalf of AITA.

I would like to further ask the following questions:

You have been informed by multiple businesses within the UK adult industry that Rule 11 is punitive, and cannot be implemented without seriously damaging or destroying existing, legal businesses. Have you sought an opinion on whether it is in fact legal to knowingly drive our industry out of business or offshore? If so, please share this with ourselves and the Industry Forum.

The ATVOD definition of “TV-like” appears to be very different from the definition chosen by other EU member states, which have not included adult web sites within the remit. Are you aware of any other EU countries that have followed the same path as the UK regulator in this regard?

You have come to the decision that legal adult content “may seriously impair” under-18s. I request that you publish all expert opinion and academic research that was utilised in reaching this decision.”

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