Live internet erotica in legal limbo

An increasingly widespread kind of erotic website where a model poses 'live' in front of a video camera is apparently not captured by current censorship legislation on films, videos and publications.

An increasingly widespread kind of erotic website where a model poses “live” in front of a video camera is apparently not captured by current censorship legislation on films, videos and publications. And it is possible that it does not come under the purview of the Broadcasting Standards Authority either.

At least one such site – run by the proprietors of Christchurch strip club Calendar Girls – is operating within New Zealand, but many more are run from such diverse places as Amsterdam, Detroit and Prague.

"‘Live video’ or ‘streaming video’ is not a publication under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993,” says Steve O’Brien, head of the censorship compliance team at the department of Internal Affairs.

“Therefore we are not involved in the enforcement or monitoring [of such services].”

Liz Butterfield, spokeswoman for the Internet Safety Group, informed of this, says it is worrying and an example of the new technologies presenting potential problems on which her group is seeking early information from technical experts (see Safety group wants internet think-tank).

Broadcasting Standards Authority executive director Michael Stace says it is uncertain whether such a service would fall under the Broadcasting Act. He quotes the definition of "broadcasting" in the legislation, which “does not include any … transmission of programmes made on the demand of a particular person for reception only by that person.” This, he says, was phrased to exclude the original concept of video-on-demand (VoD), which was that the viewer would phone a provider and say “I want to see this film; can you start it up for me?”

The live video websites – and also some later implementations of TV-mediated VoD – have a different model where video material runs all the time, potentially to a broader audience, and those who want to watch simply connect to the service at an appropriate time. The status of this kind of VoD vis-à-vis the act is uncertain, he says, and so is “live video” via the internet. He notes that the Broadcasting Act was passed in 1989, and while it has had 10 amendments since then, none covers these points.

Any decision on BSA control over internet video will have to await the bringing of specific court cases, Stace says.

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