Curbs on hard-core sex films could be removed

Distributors of adult movies bring legal case that would allow highly explicit DVDs to be sold in the high street
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The Independent Online

Porn movie distributors are mounting a legal challenge that could in effect abolish censorship of hard-core sex films, The Independent on Sunday can disclose.

Porn movie distributors are mounting a legal challenge that could in effect abolish censorship of hard-core sex films, The Independent on Sunday can disclose.

They claim that a new generation of ultra-explicit mainstream movies, such as Baise Moi and Intimacy, have made the distinction between art and pornography meaningless.

They also say that the availability of imported blue movies from Europe means restricting sales to licensed shops is no longer tenable.

Their move, if successful, would lead to hard-core DVDs being given the same rating by the British Board of Film Classification as many horror films, making them available in high-street shops.

Real sex scenes can be viewed, with an 18 certificate, in the French film Baise Moi and the British film Intimacy. In contrast, sales of films rated R18 - featuring close-up sexual activity - have to be sold through licensed shops.

But 10 companies that own the rights to porn films have begun a process to reduce the certificates to 18, which means they could be sold virtually anywhere.

They are to take their case to the Video Appeals Committee, which is drawn from a panel that includes the writer Fay Weldon, the broadcaster Claire Rayner and the creator of Blue Peter, Biddy Baxter.

The VAC's liberal interpretation of the Video Recordings Act led to a shake-up in the guidelines applying to R18 videos four years ago, allowing stronger material to be available. It opened the floodgates for legally available porn in the UK, with hundreds of films being given certificates.

The porn distributors, though, remain angry that sales are still restricted to a handful of licensed shops.

Three adult distributors were recently prosecuted for trying to circumvent the rules by sending R18 material via mail order. The legal cases were brought despite the fact that hard-core films arereadily available by post from other European countries.

The distributors say the Government does nothing to stop material arriving from the Continent, which means UK distributors face tougher barriers for selling legal material.

Greg Hurlstone, director of one of the leading distributors, Prime Time Promotions, said: "This restricts the sale of our products to 200 stores in the UK, but who is that going to protect? Porn is available 24 hours a day on the internet."

Ofcom, the communications regulator, is consulting on the idea of allowing subscription channels in the UK to screen R18 material, and distributors feel this will further erode their business.

The adult film companies say they will tone down the explicit covers of their DVDs to make them more suitable for sale in high-street shops.

They have submitted eight films that have R18 ratings to the BBFC, asking for them to be given an 18 certificate. The BBFC is preparing a list of cuts needed to achieve that level, but the film companies are to reject these and take the case to appeal.

WHO CAN SEE WHAT?

U (Universal)

Who? Anyone.

What? Very mild bad language; occasional non-sexual nudity and mild violence.

Example: Star Wars.

PG (Parental Guidance)

Who? Anyone, but parents should consider whether under-eights might be upset.

What? Mild bad language; non-sexual nudity; moderate violence.

Example: Toy Story.

12

Who? Under 12s should not rent or buy.

What? Rare strong language; brief sexual nudity; occasional gory moments.

Example: Spider-Man.

15

Who? Under 15s should not rent or buy.

What? No theme off-limits; frequent strong language; all nudity, but sex should not be detailed; strong violence, but not dwelling on pain.

Example: Jackie Brown.

18

Who? Under 18s should not rent or buy.

What? Generally no constraints on theme, language, nudity or horror.

Example: Kill Bill.

R18

Who? Over 18s - supplied only in licensed sex shops.

What? Consensual, legal sex acts; no infliction of pain or harm; no "degrading or dehumanising" material.