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The R18 certificate represents a film or video classification given by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). It is intended to provide a classification for works that are within British obscenity laws, but exceed what the BBFC considers acceptable for its 18 certificate. In practice, this means hardcore pornography.
Under the terms of the 1984 Video Recordings Act all non-exempt videos sold or distributed within the UK must be given a certificate by the BBFC. The distibutor must decide whether a video is exempt. Uncertificated recordings are not illegal, regardless of content (except where the content is actually illegal itself), but supply (i.e. sale, rental, loan or gift) of them is. The R18 certificate is the most restrictive of the certificates.
The R18 classification was created in 1982 in response to the recommendations in 1979 of the Home Office Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship chaired by Sir Bernard Williams. Originally it was only used for films featuring simulated sex only, but the BBFC found itself forced to award R18 certificates to hardcore films in 2000 after a series of legal appeals and a judicial review of those appeals.
The introduction of the R18 certificate for hardcore films is widely seen by observers as a reaction to more liberal attitudes in British society to pornography, the de facto legalisation of the import of hardcore pornography (but not its sale) across EU member countries because of customs law harmonisation, and the widespread availability of unregulated pornography over the Internet.
Regulation of content
The BBFC specifies in detail what kinds of acts are permitted to be depicted in works receiving an R18 certificate, and which are not. In particular, it prohibits:
- Works judged to be illegal under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
- Material deemed likely to encourage an interest in "sexually abusive" activity, which can include adults role-playing as non adults.
- Depiction of non-consensual acts (including role-play).
- Use of bondage which prevents indicating a withdrawal of consent (e.g., gags).
- Infliction of pain which may cause lasting physical harm, whether real or simulated.
- Penetration by any object deemed likely to cause physical harm.
- Depiction of any sexual threats, humiliation or abuse, even if consensual, unless clearly depicted as a consensual role-playing game.
Although R18 does allow for the depiction of most consensual sex acts such as vaginal sexual intercourse, oral sex, masturbation, anal sex and some moderate BDSM between any combination of men and women, the following is prohibited:
- Any images of minors (under 18) or young participants without adequate proof of age, even if not taking part in the scene: in one case an R18 was cut for sight of a photo of a person's children which came into view while they were having sex, and in another shots of children playing on a beach intercut with lawful adult sexual activity were cut. Eastern European pornography is usually not submitted to the BBFC due to their lower ages of consent for sexual images (14-16), but is available illegally from some shops (images of 16- and 17-year-olds are considered "child" pornography in the UK as of 2003, even though they are over the age of consent of 16 in the UK).
- Roleplay where one participant plays a child or incest is featured, and rape fantasies (even if all participants are in fact consenting adults). Much of Marc Dorcel's low budget work and many U.S. "barely legal" films are prohibited from UK release under this rubric.
- Rough sex such as spitting, hair pulling, and gagging during fellatio - strong verbal abuse may also be removed if continuous and seen as dehumanising.
- Penetration with large or dangerous objects, or those associated with violence- scenes involving power drills attached to dildos, imitation firearms, ice cubes, spiked spheres, hammers, pool cues and many other items have been cut.
- Urolagnia- simple urination is permitted but urination onto or into a person, licking or drinking the urine, or urinating while masturbating will be cut; urination by a woman while she rubs her breasts and female ejaculation have previously been removed.
- Expulsion of enemas onto a person, licking/drinking enema fluid, any sight of faeces or vomit, protracted focus on menstrual blood- only one live action work has been cut for scenes involving menstruation, and several Japanese animations;.
- Use of illegal drugs during a sex scene.
- Promotion of dangerous fetish activities.
- Verbal references to rape, incest or childhood sexual activity or development within the sex scene.
- Sight of serious injuries or blood after sado-masochistic scenes; dripping of hot wax; images of bound and gagged performers (as they cannot withdraw consent).
- Depiction of coprophagia, bloodplay, and fisting.
The acts include those deemed likely to contravene the Obscene Publications Act 1959. Depiction of urolagnia, fisting and various hardcore BDSM acts were deemed legal in January 2012 in R v Peacock; it is unclear as to whether the BBFC will revise its guidelines, but they announced that they are discussing what to do next.
Films given the R18 certificate may only be exhibited in licensed cinemas and can only be sold on physical media direct to the buyer in person in licensed sex shops. Ofcom also prohibit the transmission of R18 material as part of a television broadcast, although these restrictions do not apply to hotel television systems which are not regulated by Ofcom.
The BBFC do not have jurisdiction over content distributed via non-physical media; however, in 2014 the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 amended the Communications Act 2003 to extend the statutory and legal obligations for the distribution of R18 content to "on-demand" programme services, such as streaming media/video on demand over the internet or mobile phone networks and web-based platforms. The revisions make it a criminal offence to not adequately restrict access to works rated R18 by the BBFC—or any work that would be likely to receive a R18 classification if it were submitted—to those aged over 18. These provisions are only applicable to services whose principal purpose is to provide content that is comparable to what is normally found in television services and if the service enables the user to select the programme and permits viewing at a time chosen by them.
In 2004 a group of video distributors appealed to the Video Appeals Committee (VAC) against the BBFC's decision to award R18 certificates to 9 films that the distributors wished to be reclassified as 18. A press release issued by the BBFC on 20 July 2005 announced that the VAC had dismissed that appeal.
The BBFC has previously granted 18 certificates for movies containing short scenes of unsimulated sex, such as Catherine Breillat's Romance (in 1999), Virginie Despentes's Baise Moi (in 2000), Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy (in 2001), Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs (in 2004), short-film compilation Destricted (in 2006), and in 2008 the hardcore version of Tinto Brass' Caligula was passed uncut for DVD with an 18.
- BBFC FAQ - What does the 'E' symbol mean, and it is an official category?
-  Archived January 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- Barnfield, Graham (27 August 2009). "Let’s finally erase this ‘law’ from the statutes". Spiked Magazine. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
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- "Article about the Michael Peacock trial, the Obscene Publications Act, and what it means for cinema". Eye For Film. Retrieved 2015-09-07.
- British Board of Film Classification (16 May 2007). "Memorandum submitted by the British Board of Film Classification". Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- Ed Vaizey (4 November 2014). "The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014". Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- "The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009". Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2009. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- BBFC press release 20 July 2005
- "CALIGULA | British Board of Film Classification". Bbfc.co.uk. 2008-08-26. Retrieved 2015-09-07.