The German film censors of the FSK started up 70 years ago. After World War II, according to the Allies, a post was supposed to replace military censorship and thus block propaganda films with National Socialist content. Politicians wanted to seize the
opportunity and connect it with a state control authority for the protection of minors.
Although there is no legal obligation in Germany to have films examined by the FSK, according to the Youth Protection Act, cinema and video films must be provided
with an age-approval mark. That is, a film that has no FSK certificate, may only be seen or purchased by adults.
Saying that, the rules for selling 18 rated videos seem very onerous in Germany and it has led to large numbers of films being cut for
the easier to retail 16 rating.
The FSK charges film distributors 1000 euro for its age rating. A movie is rated by five examiners. The odd number is important because it is decided by a simple majority. The chairman is the Permanent
Representative of the Supreme State Youth Authorities, in addition to a youth protection expert, for example, from the youth welfare office, and a public representative, for example, of churches, the Central Council of Jews or the Federal Youth. Two
examiners are selected by the FSK although they must be independent of the film industry.
Going self rated in 2020
Age ratings can be self applied for online films so an FSK rating is not required. In addition, the
online streaming competition is rather diminishing the market for DVDs. And the declining DVD sales makes the censorship fees every more burdensome.
So to tray and reduce costs the FSK wants to start a new test procedure next year. The
distributors will fill in a questionnaire with information, such as hard violence, explicit sex scenes or similar. A computer program calculates an age rating. Releases of 18+ years or for controversial/contested cases will still be consider by an FSK
In addition to the cost savings, the FSK hopes with the new system to find a connection on the international market.
The next Wolfenstein game might not even need to remove Adolf Hitler's moustache. Germany's Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (or USK), an independent, industry-funded board that oversees age and content ratings for videos games
available in the country, announced on Thursday that it will now permit the sale of games featuring Nazi imagery within the country, something that had previously been banned. The USK's decision reportedly came after a heated debate involving the
Nazi-killing Wolfenstein series , particularly a pair of anti--Third Reich games in 2014 and 2017 that were visibly, and somewhat humorously , self-censored in Germany in order to avoid violating a provision of the country's constitution.
video games with Nazi symbolism were heavily censored or outright banned based on the German criminal code's Section 86a , which forbids the use of symbols, flags, insignia, uniforms, slogans, propaganda, and greetings relating to unconstitutional
organizations in German products. Section 86a violations could be met with up to three years of imprisonment or a hefty fine.
USK will now assess games on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet a reinterpreted standard of the country's
social adequacy clause that allows for Nazi imagery if it serves one of the following purposes: artistic, scientific, or if it depicts current or historical events. This metric is currently used for films screened in Germany because they are considered
works of art.
Before a movie is released in German theaters, the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Fernsehen ( FSK) decides on an age rating so as to protect children from 'harmful influences'.
The FSK is based on voluntary self censorship to buffer the
local film industry from controversy and state censorship. The organisation is based in the German Film House in Wiesbaden. Around 280 volunteers review thousands of films every year and decide which age groups to show - from age 6, age 12, age 16 or 18.
FSK's 280 volunteers have no connection to the film industry. They pursue different professions, but have experience in dealing with children and adolescents, and know their stages of development. FSK spokesman Stefan Linz told DW:
Five days a week, we carry out investigations in various committees.
The basis for the work of the FSK is the German Youth Protection Act, which provides for different age ratings for media. The color white means
that there are no restrictions for a movie. For the age group of six to twelve years is yellow. Green requires parenting for ages of six or twelve. From the age of 16, the category is blue, while red indicates that a movie is not considered suitable for
young people under the age of 18.
The law also defines the rules of assessment of media. For example, a film may not be shown to children of a certain age group if the examiners believe that it could affect their development as self-responsible
and socially competent people. Linz commented:
Of course this is totally abstract to the assessment of content that could potentially be problematic. But not only can we say that about us, but about all forms of
protection of minors around the world, especially the portrayal of violence, sexuality, the use of drugs, alcohol and nicotine, bad role models and antisocial behavior or threats to others.
The origin of the FSK dates back to the
postwar period. At that time, the Allies strove to denazify all social and social aspects in Germany, and to build the then West Germany as a democratic state with freedom of expression. Representatives of the German film industry, who had come back from
exile, together with American occupation authorities in 1948 built a voluntary self-control system for the film industry after the model of the American system of that time.
From these initiatives finally the FSK was born, which gave its first
film evaluation on 18 July 1949. The film Intimitäten by Paul Martin (1944) was not suitable for young people under 16 - and may not be shown on some religious holidays.
In the former GDR, all films were controlled by socialist authorities,
until after the reunification of the new states joined the FSK.
German age guidelines differ those of the USA. For example the German film Toni Erdmann , which was produced in 2016 and became a worldwide hit and received an Oscar
nomination, was rated R by the MPAA in the USA. This stipulates that young people under the age of 17 are only allowed to watch the movie when accompanied by an adult. The rationale was: The film contains heavily sexualized content, graphic nudity,
violent language and short scenes of drug abuse. In Germany, the FSK judged the same film as suitable for adolescents from the age of 12, this restriction being justified by a somewhat strange, emotionless sex scene without intercourse. The aspects cited
by MPAA , that is, language, drugs and nudity, played no role for the FSK - despite a rather extensive naked party scene.
According to Stefan Linz, the differences between age ratings by the FSK and MPAA are explained by cultural attitudes. In
particular, Germans and Americans have a completely different attitude to nudity. While there has long been a large naturist scene in Germany, public nudity in the US is still considered scandalous.
The FSK does not classify nudity in itself as
problematic, says Linz, referring to documentation on nudist communities that have been released for all ages. However, FSK is less generous when nudity in a movie has a sexual meaning or occurs in a sexualized context.
Linz is also of the opinion
that attitudes to linguistic usage also differ in the German and English-speaking world. However, this aspect also points to differences in the approach of FSK and MPAA. In the eyes of the American institution, the repeated use of sexual terms as a swear
word justifies an age restriction.
By contrast, in the FSC, numerical ratios are irrelevant when assessing language. Instead, more emphasis is placed on the specific context. Who speaks like the swear word? When a couple of bad words fly back and
forth between friends, for example in hip-hop circles, that has a very different meaning than if the same nasty word is used in a discriminatory or even directly offensive manner, says Linz.
In 2002, the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of
Secrets caused a change in the rules. From then on, children between the ages of six and twelve were allowed to watch films for children from the age of 12 if accompanied by a parent.
Germany's efforts to regulate the classification and sale of violent video games has brought a number of the country's authorities together to work on a set of legislation.
Legislation recently passed in Germany in July, for example, makes it easier to put such games on the banned list following the introduction of a rating index.
Games on Germany's banned list cannot be sold publicly. That includes any
advertising and sales through mail order.
The decision to flag a game is made by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM). Since the July 1 revision of the Protection of Minors Act, the agency has been granted even more
authority. That includes the authorization to list games that propagate vigilante justice as the only solution to a problem. The criteria have also been expanded for the automatic inclusion of specific games in the list.
A network of
organizations decide on age classifications. Tthe age labeling system will be significantly broader in future. Some games are currently open to a general audience. The next levels are "6," "12," and "16." Any game assigned
an "18" is banned for youths. There are also games that cannot be rated at all. Such titles require action by the BPjM frequently land on the index.
The labeling system is organized by the so-called Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle
(USK) in Berlin, with support until now from the Association for the Promotion of Youths and Social Work. Two industrial associations assumed sponsorship from June 1: the German Association of Computer Game Developers (G.A.M.E.) and the German
Association of Interactive Entertainment Software (BIU).
The USK functions as a service provider, commissioning a circle of independent experts. These observers first play the game, present their results to a five-person committee consisting of
at least four of roughly 60 expert appraisers from the USK, including teachers and employees of the youth agencies. The committee is then completed by a permanent representative of the Supreme Youth Agencies of the states. The majority decides, but the
permanent representative always has a veto right.
Despite their popularity, violent video games are widely criticized in Germany and the country has some of the strictest video-game censorship laws in the Western world. For example, German laws prohibit the sale of Counter-Strike and titles with bloody graphics.
The Protection of Young Persons Act (PYPA)
The Act was enacted in 2002 and was Amended in 2003, 2004, and 2008.
The Act defines children as individuals under 14 years old and adolescents as those
between 14 and 18 years old.
The Act requires business operations to publish legal notices with movie codes and ratings; they are also required to request identification from those with parental power accompanying minors. Children and adolescents
are not permitted in public movie performances unless those performances are cleared for them by the Supreme state authority.
PYPA, section 12 establishes that video games or any other games cannot be publicly accessible to children or adolescents
unless they are cleared and labeled for their appropriate age group by the supreme state authority.
PYPA 2008- Amendments Relevant to the Video Game Industry?
In 2008, an amendment to PYPA entered into
force. Under the amended Section 15 of the Protection of Young Persons Act, a video game that contains exceptionally realistic, cruel, and lurid images of violence as an end in itself is automatically indexed and subject to severe restrictions on
distribution and advertising. Further, these games may not be sold to underage persons. This kind of violent media is automatically indexed -- that is, it does not have to be assessed and rated by the supreme state authority that is generally responsible
for indexing, known in German as the Bundesprfstelle.
PYPA Section 18 –List of Media Harmful to Young People- states: Data media and telemedia which might have a severely damaging impact on the development and education of
Children and Adolescents to responsible personalities in society shall be registered by the Review Board and included in a List of Publications Harmful to Young Persons. Included are media and other publications with immoral and brutalizing content or
those instigating violence, crime and racism. The 2008 Amendment added some requirements to this section regarding violent video games. German authorities are to index media that contain acts of violence like murder and mass killings as ends in
themselves as well as media in which self-administered justice is presented as a successful and proven means for serving justice. This kind of media, according to the amendments, has to be assessed, rated, and placed on a list of media that is generally
considered to be dangerous for young people.
The County Court in Munich decided to confiscate all versions of Manhunt in July 2004 because it violated a penal provision prohibiting
the depiction and glorification of violence. Other games, including the violent video game Dead Rising , were placed in the Index and confiscated by a Hamburg County Court decision of June 2007.
International: German Video Censorship
I have received word from Germany that the German censorship laws changed on April 1st 2003. The
following debate predates this and may now be inaccurate.
All rating and censorship IS voluntary; however,
it is a 'hard' ratings system - if you are under the age given, you may not watch the film in question (this is enshrined in the law). The possible ratings are: suitable for all ages, 6, 12, 16 and 18.
Once a film has been
rated, that is its rating for both cinema and video. It is quite legal to have two versions of a film. Quite often there is a cut 16 version and an uncut 18 version on video. With few exceptions, they tend to be less strict here, e.g. Face/Off was rated
16 with no cuts.
It is a bit harder to get hold of 18 vidoes - many shops do not stock them. Nevertheless many video rental stores do - both for hire and for purchase at standard prices (comparable/cheaper than UK).
There is also a category above 18 - 'indiziert', or 'on the index'. You cannot advertise these films, nor can they be openly on display - unless a shop is open to 'adults only'. However, it is quite legal to sell and buy such
material. Simply ask at a shop counter; if they have such films, and you are obviously above 18, they will let you browse. Many video rental stores have back rooms/basement for such stuff.
Examples of 'indizierte' films -
Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, Last House on the Left, The Exorcist, From Dusk till Dawn, Profondo Rosso. All these films are fully uncut, but subject to the limitations listed before.
'Indizierte' films cannot be
ordered by post - you have to prove in person that you are 18 or over. This is adhered to very strictly by the larger Lasrdisc/Video/DVD supliers; the smaller, less well known ones will ignore this rulling if you a known, good customer.
Any foreign home video material (be it US, GB, Dutch or whatever) will only be sold to you if you are 18 or over; however, unless 'indiziert', it will be openly desplaid and advertised.
Finally TV: Any film
rated up to 6 can be shown at any time; 12 only after 8 pm (correction: 12 are allowable any time of day) ; 16 only after 10 pm; 18 only after 11 pm. As far as I know, the 'indizierte' version of a film will NOT be shown on TV
(correction: may be edited down to TV standards and shown after 11pm) - though I have heard rumours of exceptions concerning Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2.
First, the information you have written on your page is not wrong but censorship in germany is more complex. No film/video label is FORCED to go to the german
FSK (which means Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle = voluntary self control) with a film but such movies that opt out are automaticly only for persons of 18 years and over. So if you want films to be shown to a younger audience the film/video label MUST go
to the FSK.
The only reason to go to the FSK for an 18 certificate is because two german paragraphs of German law (§131/violence and §184/pornography) could be used to ban the film. This happend to such movies like Halloween II, The Evil Dead
(uncut version, the new version with an FSK18 certificate is cut), Dawn of the Dead (uncut version), Day of the Dead and lots more (actually there are over 130 movies banned in germany most of them because of
violence). To avoid such trouble most video labels go to the FSK to be on the safe side, i.e. films with an 18 certificate are NOT automaticly uncut!
The second problem is that it is strictly forbidden to sale videos with an
18 certificate via mail order. This is the reason for the problem with cut versions and FSK16-certificates in these mail order shops. You will only able to find films with an 16 certificate (or lower, i.e. 12, 6 or 0/suitable for all ages) in mail order
shops. Sometimes movies are cut to get in the next lower certificate region, e.g. Beverly Hills Cop has been cut to get an FSK12 certificate so it has been watched by more children.
The biggest problem for the german
censorship is still violence so lots of movies with an FSK18 certificate have been cut (e.g. RoboCop, Terminator, Cobra, Predator ) and lots of them have also been put on the "index" which means that anyone who sells, rents or
hires such a movie to a person under the age of 18 will be prosecuted an could be sent to prison for up to one year, i.e. all indexed movies are still available for adults, all banned films are unavailable. Therefore all indexed movies have an 18
certificate you will also unable to buy the via mail order in germany.
The biggest problem for fans of video nasties is that is strictly forbidden to import films via mail order (e.g. per internet) which are on the index or
even banned in germany; this problem also occures to all porno videos because of the §184 described above.
I read the extended german censorship section, it´s ok except of the following:
Examples of uncut 'indizierte' films - Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, Last House on the Left, The Exorcist, From
Dusk till Dawn, Profondo Rosso .
All these films are NOT uncut in germany except " The Exorcist " ...
Cannibal Holocaust was released cut under the title " Nackt und zerfleischt ", it was re-released this year uncut by another video label but is still indexed,
Last House on the Left was released cut under the title " Mondo Brutale ", it was re-released uncut this year by the same video label,
From Dusk till Dawn was NOT released uncut on video in germany - this didn´t stop the BPS from indexing the film,
Profondo Rosso was
released cut by 22 minutes (!) and was re-released uncut by Screen Power this year
All re-released versions are NOT for video rental shops it is very difficult to get them, all these videos have no FSK-certificate i.e. the german censors could bann them anytime. Most of the movies re-released uncut on video are
produced as export versions by the german video labels therefore they are all indexed or even banned in germany e.g. Cannibal Ferox - this movie is banned in germany - not just indexed, that´s what I know.
As I told you already german videos with an FSK18-certificate are NOT automaticly uncut also indexed movies are not. It is very difficult to get information because cut videos are of course not wanted by the fans of this kind of films so
the video labels don´t write this information on the covers - unless the movie is uncut / the director´s cut. But that´s the next problem: e.g. the film Scream was released in germany with "Director´s Cut" written on the cover - but it wasn´t
the "real" un- rated US director´s cut! Director´s cut means in this case uncut cinema version which was the same as the R-rated US-version which was cut also. I think that´s the same version released in the UK. You have to compare the running
times to get all information about cut/uncut films in germany, UK or wherever.
The german FSK was previously cutting more than the BBFC, but this was changing, over the last two years lots of movies got FSK18- certificate
without cuts - like Starship Troopers. Therefore lots of the good horror films from the 70's and 80's are cut or banned in germany [e.g. Hellraiser, Hellraiser 2, Halloween 2 (also banned), Friday the 13th (the
uncut part 3 was banned, also the cut part 4), Pet Semetary 2 (uncut in cinema !), Scanners, Intruder, A Nightmare on Elmstreet 2 (cut down to a 16-certificate to avoid being indexed), A Nightmare on Elmstreet 4
(same version in cinema as on video, but 16-certificate in cinema/18-certificate on video !) and and and ...
Since 1997 there is a new certificate for video films from the "Spitzen- organisation der
Filmwirtschaft" (SPIO) which certificates that the film does not break german law (§131/violence only). I don´t know a correct translation for it because it contains juristic terms so here it is written in german: "Strafrechtlich unbedenklich /
SPIO/JK" - "JK" means "Juristen-kommission". There are a lot of newer movies (e.g. Dead Presidents) with this SPIO-certificate, there is just one problem: the video label has no "insurance" for the film not being
All movies with an SPIO-certificate are handled like movies without an FSK-certificate, i.e. only suitable for persons of 18 years and over. All movies without an FSK-certificate could be indexed AND ALSO banned.
Movies with an FSK18-certificate could just be indexed. It is important to understand the difference between "indexed" and "banned" because even here in germany people think it means the same - but all indexed movies are still
available in almost every video rental shop, banned films are of course unavailable.
On TV 18-films are often cut to be broadcast earlier (after 22:00), also 16-films are cut to be broadcast after 20:00. Indexed movies MUST
be cut to be braodcast because it is strictly forbidden to show these films on TV.
Unfortunately I can´t say anything about Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2 , but I can´t believe that these movies are shown
UNCUT on television in Germany.
Censorship is voluntary, fair enough, films and videos are indeed never
refused in the way that they are in Britain i.e. 'no certificate, that's it folks' however they can be banned or indexed afterwards. The list of banned movies has a count of at least 250 (including illegal pornography) and there are nearly 3000 indexed
videos. So as a distributor you can never be sure if your movie will stay on the market...
That classification is less strict may be true at the moment but it wasn't some time ago, especially horror films get cut to shreds
(Hellraiser 5 minutes, Hellraiser II 12 minutes) a lot of movies that have 18 certs in the UK are cut more heavily in Germany, also action movies more often got 18 ratings in Germany than in the UK. Where Germany is a lot less strict is for
language(nearly no special restrictions) and for sex. 'Thoughtful' movies also nearly never get 18 certs even if they're quite violent, which weighs things up a bit. On the otzher hand, they're NOT consistent over there especially direct-to-video movies
are treated very unfairly. *Indeed 18 cert videos cannot be sold in normal video shops only in rental outlets
'Indiziert' doesn't mean higher than an 18 cert. but it means the film came out on video and some months or years
later it was submitted to the BPjS (organisation to set on the index material that's considered harmful to minors) and was duly indexed. The organisation to give out certificates is the FSK and has nothing to do with the index! Indeed most other
media(CDs, books) can alos be put on the index (eg American Psycho, Naked Lunch) with the same restrictions applying.
The examples for indexed films are not really correct, 'The Exorcist' and 'Profondo Rosso' are not on the
index, while Cannibal Ferox has been banned entirely. These films are NOT all uncut, they are the normal German video versions, for example Cannibal Holocaust was cut by 7 minutes, PR by over 20 minutes including dialogue etc. A great number of indexed
films are cut like the Hellraiser movies. The cuts were inflicted in hope that the film wouldn't be banned entirely(a fact of which one can never be sure as I said because every court may decide otherwise just as in the UK Video Nasty era, and since the
films can only be banned after release, unlike in the UK)
TV: Actually films up to 12 can be shown anytime, indexed films may be shown on TV but only in cut versions and if submitted to a TV monitoring board like the ITC
called FSF. 'Nekromantik' 1 and 2 would never, believe me be shown on German TV. Cut films include 'Hard-Boiled' which was cut by 12 minutes at 12 am! Films rated too strictly for the time at hand (e.g. rated 16 for a showing at 8 pm) will be cut, and
lots of action/horror movies are cut for this reason (eg Indiana Jones)
Information: It is legal to own banned videos.
I am grateful to both Ingo and Jaques for
their comments concerning the original 'German censorship' notes; thanks for expanding on, clarifying and correcting some of the points. One area where I have to disagree with both is the availability and form of certain films, 'Cannibal Ferox' in
The film may well be banned, but it is available - from the German 'Astro'video company. I can attest to this because 'Ferox' is present in both my local video stores.
to specialise in classic/cult horror/violence films. A few of their releases are classified 18 (e.g. Wild at Heart; Angelheart). However, most of them (Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, Last House on the Left, Cannibal Man, The House by the Cemetary,
Aenigma, Manhattan Baby, Mangiati Vivi (?), Mark of the Devil, Braindead) simply carry the warning (translated into English) 'Do not sell or rent to minors' (i.e. people under 18). I have always taken this to mean that the films were 'indiziert' and not
All the films in question are advertaised as uncut; many are additionally advertised as containing scenes previously not shown in Germany (e.g. 'Ferox'). I have watched 'Last House on the Left' and I believe the
claims - the running time suggests that the print is uncut; moreover, at certain points in the film, the dialogue is not German but English with German subtitles - implying material has been added at a later stage.
I do not
reckon they were prepared for export. Firstly, I doubt the export market would be big enough (remember, these films are dubbed); secondly, the above-mentioned warning looks too similar to standard German video ratings symbols - black writing inside a
bright red square.
I am at a loss to explain why these films are being rented/sold. Anyonegot any ideas?
Bad news from Germany: The german video label Astro started to re-release banned movies in the so-called "Black Series" at the beginning of 1998. All uncut and without any FSK- or SPIO/JK-certificate. It
seems that all these movies have again been banned and that all of them will be part of the new prosecution process against Astro Video.
This series included movies like:
Geisterstadt der Zombies (L´Aldilá - The Beyond)
Muttertag (Mother´s Day)
Kannibalen (Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali)
New York Ripper
Sado - Stoß das Tor zur Hölle auf (Beyond the Darkness - Buio Omega)
Die Weiße Göttin der
Kannibalen (La montagna del dio cannibale)
Zombie (Dawn of the Dead)
Ein Zombie hing am Glockenseil (City of the Living Dead)
Other just indexed Astro videos are still available though, eg:
Last House on the Left
The banned movies were produced as export versions with "Not for sale in the Federal Rebuplic of Germany" written on the cover, this didn´t stop the prosecutors from banning them all. One reason could have been the fact that
some video shops did sell them in germany.
Having read the second contribution on German
censorship by Stu Watts, I think I can answer his question as to why the 'Astro' company is able to sell copies of allegedly banned films. The answer is simple: They can't! Indeed only about 8 or so of the movies they distribute (the so-called 'Black
Series') have been banned by the German government, e.g. 'Paura nella città dei morti viventi' (City of the Living Dead), 'L'Aldila' (The Beyond) or 'New York Ripper'. I don't know why exactly they sell copies of films ('Wild at Heart') that have been
available uncut through regular means....
Some films like 'Last House' are 'only' indexed, but now Astro is to be dragged to court(this is no joke), and half a dozen of their titles have been snatched by police throughout
Germany. While some bans may not be upheld by courts, a lot still are(e.g. 'Maniac', 'Dawn of the Dead') and it is still illegal to just try and sell nearly identical versions to the ones that have been banned.
very courageous, and were all the time walking on thin ice, and I think even the rest of their catalogue is being seized from video shops. Actually there is a very small note on the back cover of the 'Black Series' videos that they are not for sale in
Germany, only in Austria and Switzerland(I think), this hasn't been adhered to however... This whole affair proves again that you may, indeed sell uncertificated material in Germany but if you get caught, and if the films are then deemed obscene, that
was bad luck.