British Board of Film Classification

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Exemption criteria

Under the Video Recordings Act 1984, some video content does not need to be rated by the BBFC.  The below criteria set out when this is the case.

Video work’ means any series of visual images (with or without sound):

  1. produced electronically by the use of information contained on any disc, magnetic tape or any other device capable of storing data electronically, and
  2. shown as a moving picture.

Under the Video Recordings Act 1984 the BBFC assigns age ratings to all video works supplied in the United Kingdom unless they fall into one of the two exempt areas:

  • works which, taken as a whole, are designed to inform, educate or instruct;
  • works which, taken as a whole, are concerned with sport, religion or music;

 The BBFC can advise a customer, if required, on the interpretation of these areas but the decision as to whether or not to submit a work lies with the distributor.

Having reached a decision about whether the work falls into one of these areas, the distributor must then determine whether the work includes or is likely to encourage, to any significant extent, any of the following:

  • human sexual activity or acts of force or restraint associated with such activity;
  • mutilation or torture of, or other acts of gross violence towards, humans or animals;
  • techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences;
  • or whether it includes to any significant extent human genital organs or human urinary or excretory functions;

If the work does include any of the above elements then the exemption is lost and the work must be submitted to the BBFC for classification.

A video recording may contain a number of video works. Distributors should consider the criteria for exemption in relation to each individual element that will appear on the final product. An individual trailer, advert or item of bonus material may require rating even if the main feature or video game it accompanies does not.

Who decides if a work is exempt?

Ultimately only a court may decide. Meanwhile decisions as to whether a work falls into one of the exempt areas or includes material that loses the exemption can only be made by the distributor or supplier. The Board’s role is purely to rate works submitted to it. The BBFC has no authority to make any decision about whether submitted works could be exempt.

Does it matter if I submit a work to the BBFC which might be exempt?

No. The BBFC will accept submissions of material which may be exempt. Exempt works are sometimes rated because the distributor prefers a BBFC rating.  Our categories and symbols are familiar and trusted by the public and enjoy the support of the law.

What about works already classified elsewhere or shown on TV?

Once transferred to a disc, magnetic tape or any other device capable of storing data electronically for distribution, works are considered to be different from the same material broadcast on television. TV regulation is different from video regulation, and even from film regulation and, by law, a new decision has to be made. Any classification decisions made anywhere else in the world are similarly irrelevant. It has also to be borne in mind that the version for release as a video work may not always be the same as that shown on TV here or seen in other countries.

What happens if a work which should be classified is not?

The Video Recordings Act is enforced mainly by local Trading Standards Officers. Their role is to visit stores and inspect the stock and to check that no unclassified works are being sold or rented and that all other details of relevant legislation are being observed. They are entitled to take an ‘exempt’ work from a shop if they doubt its exempt status. If, on inspecting that work, they reach the conclusion that it should have been classified, the distributor could be prosecuted.

Exempt Supply

Even if a work itself is not exempt, it is possible that its supply is. The Act defines an exempt supply as one which is neither ‘a supply for reward’ nor ‘in the course or furtherance of a business’. So, if there is no reward (eg exchange of money) associated in any way with the transaction, and as long as the supply is entirely unrelated to any business activity, the supply could be considered exempt. This would not be the case, for instance, if videos were being lent or given away to attract customers to a shop, even one whose actual business was unrelated to video.

There are other circumstances in which a supply can be considered exempt, such as the record of an event which is to be circulated only to those connected with the event – e.g. a wedding video.

Further advice on exempt video works (including video games) may be obtained from The Video Standards Council.

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