In a Sanction Notice posted to the Ofcom.org.uk website on December 7th, news of a £60k fine levied against Strictly Broadband Ltd. of London was made public.
For breaches of ATVOD statutory rules for providers of On Demand Programme Services – specifically not having an ATVOD-approved Content Access Control (CAC) system in place to prevent under18s from seeing adult material – ATVOD passed their findings to Ofcom, who’ve the power to fine up to £250,000.
According to the report: “R18 equivalent material [was] available to view free without registration. The homepage of the Service (which appeared without a warning page as the site’s content or other indication that the material was unsuitable for under a significant quantity of free material including a banner window showing scrolling large number of thumbnail stills constituting links to available videos and movie. These depicted R18 equivalent unsimulated sexual activity in explicit detail viewed without registration or payment (i.e. there was no CAC System).”
The report is also critical of Strictly Broadband’s policy of allowing purchases to be made by premium SMS message and Debit card, as it was felt by ATVOD that these were insufficient age verification. Ofcom agreed, saying in the sanction, “[we] considered whether the breaches are sufficiently serious, deliberate, repeated and reckless as to warrant the imposition of a statutory sanction on the Service Provider in this case. It concluded that the imposition of such a sanction was warranted.”
The report continued: “Having regard to the serious, repeated and reckless nature of the breaches and Ofcom’s penalty guidelines, Ofcom decided it was appropriate and proportionate in the circumstances to impose a financial penalty of £60,000 on Strictly Broadband (payable to HM Paymaster General).”
In the latter part of the notice – points 40 to 44 – the nature of the closing of Strictly Broadband in the UK is discussed, with the following being of particular note: “Ofcom notes that its understanding is that the Service Provider is or was claiming to be about to stop providing an ODPS as that is defined in the Act prior to entering liquidation (although it may continue to provide an on-demand service subject to the laws of another country). Specifically, in section 368A(1) of the Act, all of which must be fulfilled for states, “that person is under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom Audiovisual Media Services Directive” (section 368A(1)(e)). Ofcom same as “transferring editorial responsibility”. The reference making the service available under section 368A(1)(d), and read in parallel with Article 2 of the Audiovisual Media Services that the location where editorial decisions are taken is only one.” In short, moving an adult VOD service off-shore and relinquishing any editorial control may not be enough to avoid investigation by ATVOD or penalties from Ofcom. Penalties which, in this case, are based on guesswork of Strictly Broadband’s profitability. Points 49, 55 and 61 of the report make it clear that while penalties should be proportionate to a business’ income (up to 5% of it), Strictly Broadband’s 2010 figures were the latest available for them to make a decision on.
When ETO spoke to a shellshocked Jerry Barnett [pictured], former owner of Strictly Broadband, on December the 8th, he wanted time to prepare a statement. It is unclear at this stage who – if anyone – will pay the fine as the company is no longer trading. In the conversation Barnett confirmed he is not a director of the US business which took over the running for the StrictlyBroadband.com and Anywhere.XXX sites, but does provide hosting and technical services to them.
You can read Ofcom’s full summery at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/enforcement/vod-services/Strictly-Broadband.pdf