The UK’s domestic pornography industry is being put at risk by age verification laws unveiled by the Government, its supporters have claimed.
New laws passed as part of the Digital Economy Act will require websites hosting pornographic material to verify the ages of visitors from the UK or face being blocked by internet service providers (ISPs).
Pandora/Blake, who described themself as a feminist pornographer, as well as obscenity lawyer and legal officer at Open Rights Group Myles Jackman, told Sky News that this posed an enormous privacy risk to viewers.
They argue the age verification requirements may harm small businesses and curtail the freedom of expression by allowing multinational pornography giants to monopolise the industry.
Many of the most popular pornographic websites (Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn) and production studios (Brazzers, Digital Playground) are owned by one company: MindGeek.
MindGeek stands to increase its already considerable market share by offering age verification services to smaller sites.
Speaking at an Open Rights Group panel alongside Pandora/Blake, Mr Jackman warned that the consequences socially, are the extreme risk of privacy loss to any person who participates in the age verification system in order to access pornography.
He added: We’ve been told by MindGeek that 20 to 25 million adult users will sign up to age verification by their estimation in the first month that age verification comes online.
And as a consequence of that, on the basis that they do not have the greatest history of data security… there’s a high probability that those people are risking putting their private sexual proclivities in the public domain.
MindGeek did not respond to Sky News when asked for comment.
Pandora/Blake said the Government is refusing to engage with pornographers who are concerned the laws will harm their business.
Age checks are going to be expensive, they said, noting figures given to them ranged from £0.05 to £1.50 per age check.
If you know anything about the economics of porn you realise that if you’re paying a cost per viewer, rather than per customer, then you’re going to be orders of magnitude making a loss.
Even if there was a means-tested licence fee, it would still cut into their site’s slim profit margins, they argued.
I’m seeing a lot of smaller sites simply giving up pre-emptively. There’s already a chilling effect of sites not knowing how they’re going to possibly be able to comply, said Pandora/Blake.
This is already having an impact on freedom of expression and the diversity of adult material that’s available in the UK, where it’s the fringe content that is hit most hardly, where the multinational corporations that run the biggest sites can weather the storm.
A Government spokesperson told Sky News that the British Board of Film Classification was the intended regulator for the age verification system, and would be required to publish guidance regarding the arrangements for making pornographic material available in a compliant manner.
The BBFC said that as it had not yet been appointed the regulator, it could not comment on the concerns raised to Sky News.
(c) Sky News 2017: UK pornographers fear age verification laws may harm business