© 2011 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.
The Video Recordings Act 1984 (which was repealed and revived by the Video Recordings Act 2010) regulates the sale, hire, exchange and loan of all video works - including video games - on DVD, Blu-Ray, or any other device capable of storing data electronically that are made available to the public, unless the supply or the video work is 'exempt'. The Video Recordings Act 1984 sets out a number of criminal offences.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is responsible for classifying video works. With certain minor exceptions the Video Standards Council (VSC) is responsible for classifying video games.
Retailers must take note of and comply with all legislation applicable to the sale, hire, exchange and loan of video works and games to avoid committing criminal offences and a list of other legislation enforced by trading standards is included in this leaflet.
In the guide
Keeping within the law
The BBFC is designated as the authority responsible for classifying works according to the material on it (criminal behaviour, sex, violence, bad language, drugs, etc) and for issuing or refusing classification certificates. The classification certificate will include one of the following statements:
- the video work is suitable for general viewing and unrestricted supply
- it is suitable for viewing by people of a specified age (not more than 18) and that it must not be supplied to anyone under the specified age
- it is suitable for viewing by people of a specified age (not more than 18) and that it must not be supplied to anyone under the specified age and the video recording containing the video work can only be supplied in a licensed sex shop
A video work is exempt from classification by the BBFC if its purpose is to inform, educate or instruct, or if it concerns sport, religion or music. However, the content of these works can be taken into consideration when deciding if a classification is required. Exempt supplies are those that are not related to a business activity, not for financial gain, and private recordings of an event or occasion - such as a wedding video - for those people connected with it.
The VSC (using the name Games Rating Authority) is the designated authority responsible for classifying video games using the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) system. Video games are classified at 12, 16 and 18 according to the content of the video game. Video games receiving a 3 or 7 rating are advisory only. The BBFC retains responsibility for classifying video games where the content warrants an R18 classification (because of more extreme sexual content) or the video game is a small game contained on a disc which is predominantly a film.
The classification categories for video works are as follows:
|Symbol||Classification||Only to be sold to|
|Parental Guidance - general viewing but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children||Unrestricted|
|Suitable only for persons 12 years and over||12 years and over|
|Suitable only for persons 15 years and over||15 years and over|
|Suitable only for persons 18 years and over||18 years and over|
|Restricted 18 - to be supplied only in licensed sex shops and to 18 years and over||18 years and over in a licensed sex shop|
It is illegal for a retailer to sell a video recording with a BBFC classification rating of 12, 15 or 18 to a person who has not reached that age. For a full list of offences under the Video Recordings Act 1984 see the 'Offences' section of this leaflet.
The classification categories for video games are as follows:
|Symbol||Classification||Only to be sold to|
|Suitable for all age groups||Unrestricted|
|Normally rated as a 3 but some content may not be suitable for younger chidren||Unrestricted|
|Slightly more graphic violence and mild bad language. Suitable for 12 years and over||12 years and over|
|Graphic violence, bad language, concept of use of tobacco, drugs and criminal activities. Suitable for 16 years and over||16 years and over|
|Depictions of gross violence. Suitable for 18 years and over||18 years and over|
The PEGI rating system also includes descriptor icons on the back of the packaging showing the reasons why the content of the video game has received the particular age rating:
|Bad language - the game contains bad language|
|Discrimination - the game depicts or contains material which may encourage discrimination|
|Drugs - the game depicts or refers to the use of drugs|
|Fear - the game may frighten or scare young children|
|Gambling - a game that teaches or encourages gambling|
|Online gameplay - game can be played online|
|Sex - game has sexual references or depicts nudity and/or sexual behaviour|
|Violence - game contains depictions of violence|
It is illegal for a retailer to sell a video game with a PEGI age rating of 12, 16 or 18 to a person who has not reached that age. For a full list of offences under the Video Recordings Act 1984 see the 'Offences' section of this leaflet.
The Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations 2012 specifies the labelling requirements for video recordings and video games.
The classification symbol, descriptor icon (for video games), the unique title (including the registered number) and the explanatory statement (for video recordings), where required by the Regulations, must be clearly legible, indelible and not hidden or obscured. The Regulations set out where the classification symbol and descriptor icon labels and markings must be shown on the packaging for video recordings and video games and on the disc or other electronic device.
It is illegal for a retailer to supply or offer to supply a video recording that does not comply with labelling requirements. For a full list of offences under the Video Recordings Act 1984 see the 'Offences' section of this leaflet.
The Video Recordings Act 1984 sets out a number of criminal offences.
Up to two years' imprisonment and/or £20,000 fine:
- section 9 - supplying or offering to supply a video recording of a video work which has not been issued with a classification certificate unless it is an exempt work or supply
- section 10 - possessing a video recording of an unclassified work for the purpose of supply unless it is an exempt work or supply
Up to six months' imprisonment and/or £5,000 fine:
- section 11 - supplying a video recording to a person who has not attained the age specified in the classification certificate unless the supply is, or would be if it took place, an exempted supply
- section 12 - supplying or offering to supply a video recording other than in a licensed sex shop
- section 14 - supplying or offering to supply a video recording containing a false indication as to classification unless the supply is, or would be if it took place, an exempted supply
Up to £5,000 fine:
- section 13 - supplying or offering to supply a video recording which does not comply with labelling requirements unless the supply is, or would be if it took place, an exempted supply
There are defences available to the person accused of committing offences under the Video Recordings Act 1984. For the purposes of this leaflet, the defences available to the commission of a section 11 offence are given below.
It is a defence to show that the accused neither knew, nor had reasonable grounds to believe, that:
- the classification certificate contained the statement in relation to the specified age
- the person concerned had not attained the specified age
... or that the accused had reasonable grounds to believe that the supply was, or would have been, an exempted supply, as defined by legislation. If video recordings are sold by retail, they will not be exempted supplies.
There is a general defence to offences under the Video Recordings Act 1984, namely that the accused took all reasonable precautions, and exercised all due diligence, to avoid committing an offence. It is recommended, therefore, that a trader has systems in place, which are regularly checked and updated, to avoid committing an offence. See the 'Keeping within the law' section of this leaflet for more information. As well as this defence, it also needs to be shown that the offence was due to the act or default of another person, other than the accused.
TRADE MARKS ACT 1994
Many traders have registered their trade mark and incorporated it onto the disc or game, and the case or any other thing on or in which the recording is kept and also within the content so that it can be seen on viewing. If an unauthorised copy is made, found in possession for sale or hire or so sold or hired and it has a copy of the registered trade mark, an offence is committed that can result in a prosecution, imprisonment of up to 10 years or an unlimited fine. In addition all offending stock is liable for forfeiture and destruction.
COPYRIGHT, DESIGNS AND PATENTS ACT 1988
It is an offence to make an infringing copy of a copyrighted work. Even if no trademarks are displayed a person may still be committing an offence. Sentences can be imprisonment of up to 10 years or an unlimited fine.
CONSUMER PROTECTION FROM UNFAIR TRADING REGULATIONS 2008
Sets out offences for unfair commercial practices, misleading actions, misleading omissions, aggressive commercial practices and engaging in specified banned commercial practices. For further information please see our leaflet 'A guide to The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008'.
Keeping within the law
It is the trader's responsibility to keep within the law and to have systems in place that will act as a 'due diligence' defence. Best practice guidance can include the following.
Always observe any age restrictions on the video recording and make sure your staff do so too. It is advised that the legislation be brought to the attention of all staff via regular training. It is important that you can prove that your staff have understood what is required of them under the legislation. This can be done by keeping a record of the training and asking the member of staff to sign to say that they have understood it. These records should then be checked and signed on a regular basis by management or the owner.
Always ask young people to produce proof of their age. Trading standards services and the government support the national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS). You can be confident that a card issued under the scheme and bearing the PASS hologram is an acceptable proof of age. There are a number of card issuers in the scheme - visit the PASS website for more information. Photo driving licences and passports are also acceptable as proof of age.
Posters showing age limits should be displayed and contain a statement regarding the refusal of such sales. This would then deter potential purchasers and act as a reminder to members of staff.
All refusals should be recorded on a refusal sales sheet or a refusal book. Some tills have a refusals system built in. Maintaining a refusal log will strengthen any defence you may have. Logs should be checked by the manager/owner to ensure that all members of staff are using them. A specimen refusal log is attached below.
Refusals log (Word 31KB)
Refusals log (PDF 109KB)
Check your current and new stock and ensure that all video recordings have been classified.
Check your current and new stock for labelling. Make sure that the discs, games, etc as well as the cases, are correctly marked with the appropriate symbol, icon (where appropriate) and explanatory note.
Always buy from a known and reputable supplier and keep your transaction documentation.
Check the quality of the printing on the disc label and the case sleeve - poor quality printing can indicate that the products may be counterfeit.
Some producers use holograms on their products as a way of showing they are genuine. Check that any holograms on the products are working and not a copy.
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. Please contact us for further information.
Video Recordings Act 1984
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Trade Marks Act 1994
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
Video Recordings Act 2010
Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations 2012
Last reviewed/updated: February 2013
© 2013 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.