Satellite X has a holy grail. It takes the form of a little black box
connected to the TV, satellite dish and telephone. When I tun it on has
a simple display looking something like Google. I type in a film title,
part of a title or genre. A couple of key clicks later I sit back with
my wife/girl/beer as appropriate and watch whatever film takes my fancy,
unimpeded by censors and regulators.
As with all the best Monty Python style holy grails, there are still a
few multi-headed monsters that need to be defeated on route. Some of the
monsters will surely prove to be fearful opponents, those that control
payment services, technology and digital rights.
But some of those blocking the way will prove as ineffective as the
Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.Our very own film
censors seem keen to set themselves up in this role. They speak with
honour and respect earned in days long since past. They forge their
armour from misguided confidence in their ability to inform and protect
society. They arm themselves with inflexible blades best designed to cut
and hack at physical film and video.
But just like the film, they will surely be left on the wayside as a
limbless wreck once they cross swords with the might of the Internet.
The momentum, the flexibility and the modern Internet weaponry will
prove more than match for the antique ideas of the censors.
In fact the UK film censors (BBFC), have offered up their services as
the Internet censor. In their recent annual report, the President of the
BBFC, Sir Quentin Thomas, called on the Government to bring together
commercial, regulatory and creative interests to consider how best to
provide the public with information that may assist them to choose which
content they wish to consume and how to protect children and vulnerable
people from harm.
The BBFC’s Director David Cooke added: "We are putting a good deal of
effort into researching, and speaking to others about, the implications
of the growth of new media for our system of regulation. We do not argue
for regulation except where it is genuinely needed. But effective
regulation has clear benefits: the prevention of harm; enabling informed
choices; creating a safe environment within which to enjoy creative
content. We regularly see and deal with material, whether so-called
‘extreme reality’, abusive pornography, or simply content which is
unsuitable for the age group to whom it is addressed, where our
intervention is clearly necessary. We believe we have unique expertise
and experience to offer".
All very laudable sounding, but a few weeks later a more threatening
tone emerged. I would guess that the BBFC have been talking with the
Home Office about the "regulatory hole" that appeared due to the
invention of the Internet.
Pornography has always been regulated by the Government who generally
set the line as to what is legal and what is not. For everybody's
convenience, censorship laws were originally applied to the 'few'
sellers as opposed to the 'many; buyers. So if the police come across,
say a spanking video, (still deemed obscene by our Government), they
could find someone, ie the seller, to bring to book and to block the
supply. This approach is supplemented by Customs who seek to prevent
purchase from abroad.
With the Internet, the seller will be located abroad and cannot be
touched. Customs have no jurisdiction over electronic transfers so
cannot prevent the import of a downloaded movie. And finally there is
currently no law preventing the purchse, download or ownership of an
'obscene' spanking movie. Effectively the Internet is a massive loophole
in the Government's control of our viewing. So Suddenly spanking movies
are effective legal.
The Government is clearly not pleased. So it was hardly surprising when
the BBFC started to allude to closing this regulatory loophole.
Have you noticed that when people talk about imposing censorship, they
always say "I don't believe in censorship...BUT..." Well Sue Clark,
spokeswoman for the BBFC proved no exception.
She started by saying that the huge growth of online video content
risked making the regulation of old media redundant as more and more
people get access to video over the Internet. She said that people
recognised that the Internet may not be regulated, ...BUT... expected
certain types of content such as films to have passed through a
She proposed (sensibly) that the BBFC certificates, U, PG, 12, 15, 18,
R18, could be used to label Internet content as they are now very
familiar to British customers. But then she continued "We don't want to
go down the route of cutting and banning things and blocking
sites...BUT... a lot of the content that's out there on the Internet is
not something the majority of people would want to view".
She cited the example of Terrorists, Killers and Middle East Wackos, a
compilation of video clips of actual killings and terrorist attacks. The
compilation is banned on video or DVD in the UK because the BBFC
believed it to contravene the Obscene Publications Act, but it is freely
and legally available on the Internet through file-sharing sites.
Then she picked up on the regulatory hole: "The BBFC knew of at least
one distributor who sees video-on-demand as a way of getting around its
controls on pornography: This guy has stated that he will be putting
stuff out which the BBFC will not classify. He has to be prosecuted to
But before we all start to worry it should be noted that there is just
too much content provided by too many web sites to make the idea of
pre-vetting video anywhere near tenable. According to the Guardian, the
video site YouTube sees 35,000 new clips added and 30m clips downloaded
every day, while it would take almost 500 years to watch all the content
currently indexed by Blinkx, which claims to be the largest online video
Hopefully watching this amount of video will keep the censors occupied
whilst I continue the search for the holy grail.