Classification of video works under the Video Recordings Act 1984

Video Recordings Act 1984

What is the Video Recordings Act?

The Video Recordings Act 1984 is a piece of legislation applying to England and Wales which was first introduced in order to regulate the classification by certificate and the labeling of video works that are supplied in the course of or in furtherance of a business or video works that are supplied for reward.

Why was the Act first introduced?

Video recorders were first introduced into the UK in 1978 when there was no legislation at all which governed the kind of content which could be distributed on video. At first the makers of bigger budget productions which were being shown using film in the cinemas were wary of the use of video as they felt that their distribution would have an adverse affect on the amount of people wishing to view films in the cinema.

What was the effect of this on the market?

As a consequence of this the market was left open for smaller distributors who could only afford to release low budget material which for the most part included horror or pornography. These companies were free to do this as there was no legislation in place meaning that films that had not been submitted to the BBFC for cinema release or films that had been refused a BBFC certificate could be released on video.

The Video Nasties List and the need for Legislation

Video’s which were felt to be in contravention of the Obscene Publications Act were then put on a banned list often referred to as the “Video Nasties” list – the main problem with this however, was that a work could only be prosecuted once it had been released. It was clear that appropriate legislation was required.

What does the Act say?

Decision on how to classify the video works

The British Board of Film Classification is the body which is required to make decisions under the act in relation to classification of videos. The BBFC was required to consider whether or not video works are suitable for a classification certificate to be issued to them, having special regard to the likelihood of video works being viewed in the home and to consider whether a video was not suitable for viewing by persons who have not attained a particular age or whether no video recording containing that work is to be supplied other than in a licensed sex shop.

What is meant by a video work?

Video work is defined by the Act as any series of visual images (with or without sound) which are:

  • Produced electronically by use of information contained on any disk or magnetic tape

  • Shown as a moving picture

Does this apply to DVD’s and Video Games?

Clearly the legislation applies to videos when technology improves creating different formats such as DVD’s. Also with the introduction of computer video games which depict extreme violence there has been the need for these to fall within the definition of video for the Video Recordings Act.

What are the classifications of videos?

The Video Recordings (Labeling) Regulations 1985 were made under Section 8 of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and provide for the type and content of classification certificates and for the positioning and clarity of the required labels and markings.

The classification of video recordings is as follows:

  • UC: universal and particularly suitable for young children

  • U: universal and suitable for all

  • PG: parental guidance for general viewing, however certain scenes may be unsuitable for young children

  • 12: suitable only for persons of 12 years and older – not to be supplied to any person below that age

  • 15: suitable only for persons of 15 years and older – not to be supplied to any person below that age

  • 18: suitable only for persons of 18 years and older – not to be supplied to any person below that age

  • Restricted 18: only to be supplied in licensed sex shops to persons of not less than 18 years

Is there any other legislation to be aware of?

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 established new tests to be undertaken when deciding on the certificate for a particular video recording. Accordingly the BBFC was required to pay special regard (among other relevant factors) to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society by the manner in which the work deals with the following:

  • Criminal behaviour

  • Illegal drugs

  • Violent behaviour and incidents

  • Horrific behaviour and incidents

  • Human sexual activity

Are there any video recordings which are exempt from the requirement for classification under the Act?

Under the Video Recordings Act certain types of video works do not require classification by the BBFC. These works are as follows:

  • Video works that, taken as a whole, are designed to inform, educate or instruct

  • Video works that are predominantly concerned with sport, religion or music

  • Video games

However, the exemption will be lost if the work depicts to any significant extent any one of the following factors:

  • Human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with such activity

  • Mutilation or torture of, or other gross violence towards humans or animals

  • Human genital organs or urinary or excretory functions

  • Techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences

  • This is clearly the reason why certain video games are required to be classified before they can be distributed.

  • Furthermore, exemption will also be forfeit if a work is likely to encourage sexual activity or acts of force associated with it, violence, or the commission of criminal offences.

  • Where this is the case the work must be classified by the BBFC before it can distributed legally.