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UK censor launches online content classification drive

Age verification to become the norm?

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The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has launched its online classification system for downloadable movies and games.

The voluntary scheme asks online retailers to display the BBFC’s age-suitability classification prominently on each title's download page. Additional BBFC certification information, including what sorts of content the film contains - sexual material, violence and so on - will be available through the seller's website and the BBFC’s.

Classifications for online and physical offerings remain the same, allowing the BBFC to shrug off recent criticism from Paul Jackson, director general of the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), that the BBFC won’t be able to cope with extra classification duties.

How the BBFC’s online certification information is displayed will differ according to the medium, but it will be available for a wide variety of platforms, from computers to mobile phones.

So-called “gatekeeping” methods can be decided by the retailer, but the BBFC claimed it will make regular checks on each participant to ensure secure age-verification procedures have been put in place. For example, the board said asking buyers to simply state their date of birth won’t be enough. Instead, it will demand age checks be made through credit cards and/or online age-verification services.

The BBFC claimed its online classification service “isn’t an attempt to censor the internet”. Rather, David Cooke, director of the BBFC, said at the London launch today, it’s simply “the latest step in the modernisation of film classification”.

Online videogame certification was noticeably low on the BBFC’s agenda at the launch. And only three major film studios have so far signed up to support the initiative: Warner, Disney and 20th Century Fox.

Although the BBFC hasn’t disclosed which other online services it’s currently in talks with, the board said it expects “the majority of online digital sales to be going through the service” within a few months.

Existing titles will need to be formally approved by the BBFC for online distribution, the organisation said. That costs £45 a title. Future releases will be automatically certified for both online and physical sale for the standard fee.

According to independent research cited by the BBFC, 84 per cent of adults want to see BBFC film and DVD classification on downloadable and streamed films, while 63 per cent of adults are concerned about downloading video material that doesn’t come with independent advice and age labelling.

More information about BBFC Online is available here.

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