Posted at 22:35 on 28 Feb 2016 by Pandora / Blake
Today thirty British fetish film-makers met to discuss UK porn censorship, particularly the news that at the start of 2016 video-on-demand regulator ATVOD was shut down and re-absorbed into its parent body, Ofcom. The occasion was the British Fetish Film Festival, a new event that aims to bring film-makers together and showcase the diversity and creativity of kinky erotica produced in the UK and abroad.
Led by femdom pornographer, artist and activist Itziar Bilbao Urrutia - who organises with Backlash, the UK non-profit organisation defending freedom of sexual expression - we shared knowledge around the changing landscape of porn censorship in the UK, and brainstormed strategies to resist attempts to close us down. As Itzi pointed out, “putting all of us out of business is not going to stop porn being available online.”
Under the ATVOD regime, many of us were targeted for censorship, and some of us have had our websites forced offline entirely. Some, such as myself, have appealed to Ofcom regarding ATVOD’s decision - as Itzi did, successfully, in the wake of ATVOD’s investigation into her site the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell. While many appeals to Ofcom are still pending, that organisation has become the sole regulator of video on demand, and none of us knows how we will fare under the new regime.
The current legislation surrounding porn distribution in the UK is not fit for purpose. The AVMS regulations, deriving from BBFC guidelines restricting what content can and can’t be classified for DVD publication, are out-dated and absurd, and do not reflect current social standards of obscenity in the UK. Many of the restricted acts, such as fisting, urolagnia and full bondage with gags, are common consensual practices, easily made completely safe with prior negotiation and common sense safety procedures. Others, such as ejaculation by cunt-owners, are in reality impossible to control - it is simply the way that some bodies respond to orgasm - and attempting to ban their depiction can be seen as a regressive and sexist crusade to control our bodies, autonomy and sexual enjoyment. If the BBFC guidelines ultimately derive from the Obscene Publications Act, they should reflect current standards of social acceptability, and few UK juries would deem most of the acts on this list “likely to deprave or corrupt” - particularly since the trials of Michael Peacock and Simon Walsh in 2012. If our businesses and creative works are going to be regulated according to these guidelines, we demand that they be reviewed and brought up to date with current social standards.
It is deeply suspect that films deemed “pornographic” should be subject to different legal restrictions to films considered non-pornographic, when the subject matter is often indistinguishable. Many of the films screened at the British Fetish Film Festival do not depict nudity, fucking, or other acts traditionally categorised as sexual. Is Itzi’s film of fully clothed women schooling a suited, handcuffed man in feminist theory,more of a “sex work” than TV shows such as Game of Thrones? It might be porn for some - but so might anything. Human eroticism is so varied and subjective that any act can be sexually charged for the right person - and any attempt to categorise some works as definitively sexual and others as non-sexual seems loaded with ideological misconception. What about the cinematic custom film by Restrained Elegance of someone trying and failing to get their car to start; or Fetish Eyes’ tongue-in-cheek depiction of a woman doing housework while wearing heavy rubber hazmat suits?
When Hollywood is able to show bondage, gags, torture, rape, and sexual violence at every turn, the distinction between “pornographic” and “non-pornographic” works begins to feel entirely arbitrary. It seems as though we are being singled out purely because we are enjoying ourselves - and because as small-scale, indie producers, our budgets aren’t high enough to buy us a free pass.
The requirement that all adult sites demand age verification by credit card for the viewer even to be able to enter the site is impractical and discriminatory. We do not yet have a system for secure, pseudonymous age verification that does not reveal the identity of the viewer: it is absurd to legally mandate us to use technology that does not yet exist. Credit cards are a flawed method of age verification - it compromises user privacy, penalises those with poor credit ratings or those who are simply too financially savvy to run up credit card debt, and it is so off-putting to prospective users, who might well not be willing to pre-emptively enter their card details before they know if they want to buy, that it would decimate our businesses.
The group discussed the current consultation on “Child Safety Online”, investigating options for imposing age verification on pornography. We explored strategies for mobilising our network to organise a range of responses to the consultation from different interested parties, via social media sites such as Fetlife and Twitter. We set plans in motion to publish a resource to assist members of the public in responding to the consultation, including links to relevant evidence - such as the many reasons why the oft-cited NSPCC survey on child porn addiction has been discredited.
If we are to be subjected to restrictive legislation that controls what we are able to publish, and how we are able to trade, why are other industries not placed under the same scrutiny? Why not insist that wine sellers require credit card age verification before viewers are able to browse the list of bottles on sale - or games or DVD sites offering 18-rated titles? How can it be harmful for us to show actors simulating staged rape and violence, but fine in Hollywood? The double standard that arbitrarily segregates works deemed ‘sexual’ according to some obscure set of parameters, and subjects them to punitive and prejudicial restrictions, is hypocritical in the extreme.
Stopping us from trading won’t have any impact on what British viewers are able to access - they will simply watch porn made overseas instead. The only real-world consequence will be to stifle trade and block money from entering the UK economy from our international customers. Nonetheless, we are deeply concerned by the possibility that the current regulations on sites with UK-based editorial control might be extended to justify the implementation of a national firewall, blocking all porn from entering the UK that does not comply with age verification or content restrictions such as the AVMS. Such a firewall would not only be easily circumvented by anyone with a basic understanding of how to use VPNs or proxy servers (a social category which might not include our legislators, but certainly includes young people who grew up online), it would put us on a par with countries such as China and North Korea. It would compromise our civil liberties, our digital freedom, and would pave the way for further abuses of state power. As British lawyer and obscenity expert Myles Jackman said, “porn is the canary in the coalmine of free speech”. It is a freedom easy to target and hard to defend - but once the porn firewall exists, it will be hard to stop it being used to block other material our government doesn’t want us to see.
As film-makers, as citizens and as workers, we intend to continue exercising our creative freedom, organising as a community, distributing and screening our films wherever and however we can, and resisting attempts to control us. We have the right to make a living, the right to enjoy harmless erotic activities with consenting partners, and the right to express ourselves through art - and together, we will fight to defend these rights.