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Video Recordings Act 1984 - Cover disks / Computer Games

Most computer magazines include a CD or on their covers. These will often include clips from films, movies, or cartoons. They may also contain animated demonstrations of how the software works. A famous example of this is the Windows CD which, in some versions at least, includes clips from different films music videos.

Pleasant as it may be to see such clips, if the very same material had appeared in any other format or location, they would undoubtedly have been seen to have required a classification from the BBFC under the Video Recordings Act 1984. That Act states that it is a criminal offence to distribute moving images on disc or magnetic tape, which has not been classified under the Act. It is also an offence to distribute such matter where the packaging is not marked with the appropriate classification certificate. The CD and the crystal box or paper insert, should be marked.

There are exceptions to the Act, where the clip is concerned with education or training, sport, religion, music or if it is a computer game. Clearly these exceptions will apply to much of the material on cover discs, but not all. Where disks contain matter, which is certified elsewhere, for example a film, it is illegal to distribute it without both the CD itself and its packaging being marked with the classification certificate. It is also proper practice to have each clip to be separately classified.

There may be a grey area, however, with, for example, music videos. These apparently fall within the category of music, but still in practice will usually be certified. It is not always and entirely clear where the distinction lies between matter covered by the Act and matter which is exempt.

It makes sense therefore, that if you cannot see a clip of a film in a cinema or on a video without that clip already having been certified, the same rules should also apply to the same material when it appears on magazine cover disks. Otherwise, such CDís could include things of extreme violence or gross sexual themes, without effective control. There seems to be a wilful blindness towards the need for such certification.

In one case, it was interesting that a game was not able to take advantage of the exception which allows games not to be certified. There is a separate, voluntary classification for video games known as ELSPA. In this particular case, the game rewarded the player, upon completing a level, with a moving image of a naked woman. The game manufacturer distributor was convicted of an offence under the Act because the video clip was deemed not to be part of the game and therefore was not able to take advantage of the video game exemption.

Update 31 July 2008. Compaints have been made abut the current system which still even after these many years is confused. In essence two systems work in parallel. There is a voluntary scheme run by the industry and the standard film rating system. The hames industry wants to continue to regulateitself. The government seems to think that it has not succeeded, and is considiring formal regulation.

At this point I add that I cannot see why we do not have regulation already in et hform of the Video Recordings Act 1984. It may not be the best way, but it is already there and is not being used.

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18 October 2013 26 18 October 2013