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Porn watchdog ATVOD fails to get a Vice-like grip on the on-demand situation

Vice UK has won an appeal against video on-demand regulator ATVOD, which tried to make the site cough up for fees – only to learn that owner Vice Media Inc. is based in the US and therefore beyond jurisdiction. 

This latest case is emblematic of the main problem ATVOD (Association for Television On-Demand), and indeed any body that tries to regulate Internet-based services, faces today. 

ATVOD was set up in 2010 to co-regulate web-based media alongside the UK’s telecoms regulator Ofcom. 

While Ofcom continues to uphold complaints relating to traditional broadcast TV, it’s ATVOD’s job to regulate any Internet-based service that’s deemed to be ‘tv-like,’ or, to use the industry lingo an ODSP (On-Demand Service Provider). 

In theory, this means regulating services like BBC iPlayer and All 4, but in practice, more often than not, it involves kicking adult-themed websites to the kerb, mainly for not putting age restrictions in place. 

Back in December, ATVOD slapped one adult site in particular, Scott XXX with an enforcement notice for failing to correctly verify the ages of site visitors. ATVOD has the power to serve ODSPs with notices, but only Ofcom can issue fines. 

Scott XXX responded by moving its business address to Paris, France thereby putting its operations out of reach of both ATVOD and Ofcom.  

Similarly, MindGeek which owns YouPorn, RedTube, PornHub, GayTube – basically virtually every major adult tube site you’ve heard of – is based in Luxembourg, which makes it tricky for ATVOD or any non-Luxembourg based regulator to take action. 

ATVOD’s chief executive Pete Johnson has previously told us of plans to block credit card payments to non-UK based sites that won’t play by the rules. 

While this has yet to happen, it’s on the cards; improving age verification for adult sites beyond an ‘I am 18’ button was a key Conservative election pledge

Speaking earlier this month, Johnson said: “ATVOD will continue to discuss with policy makers further options for reducing the exposure of children to pornography and other potentially harmful VOD material on websites based both inside and outside the UK.

“Looking forward, we note with interest the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to require age verification for access to all websites containing pornographic material.”

Vice UK, Scott XXX and MindGeek are all off the hook for now, but in the future you could need a credit card to hand if you wanted to watch any Vice documentaries like Sex in Saarland, FEMEN: Sextremism in Canada or Life with a Gigantic Penis: Monster Meat

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