Video Recordings Act Erased

 VRA was not properly enacted



25th August
2009
  

Video Recordings Act Erased...

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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...

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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...

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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

 

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!

 

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.

 

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.