June 25, 2015

Today in bullshit news: Germany’s sexy ebook curfew

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Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Recently, news reports about sexy German ebooks began mushrooming up over the Internet. Allegedly, Germany passed a restriction on sexy, sexy ebooks that would limit their sale to between the hours of 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM. The Independent, among others, reported on the supposed new law:

Other such media have long been banned during the daytime, and real books that are violent or erotic are kept under the counter of bookstores. But a new ruling means that eBooks will be treated like films or TV, and so can only be sold during the night time window.

The 10pm to 6am window was originally instituted in a 2002 law — Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag, or Youth Media Protection Act —  that was intended to restrict adult cinemas from showing films in the day. But many have pointed out that applying the rule on the internet, where products can be bought at all hours of the day, is impractical.

This provokes so many questions! The first of which, naturally, is how the hell you would uphold this law. Would there be some sort of industry standard time lock on German e-commerce sites, which would sequester certain ebooks until the period which I have decided to refer to as “the hottershed”? And what constitutes “adult”, which in the context of this story is nowhere near clear?

The change has been as part of a legal complaint around a German erotica eBook called Schlauchgelüste (Pantyhose Cravings), according to blog The Digital Reader, a memoir of a transgender person which has caused problems because it was readily available.

There is so much to unpack about this story, and its subject, that makes no sense. First, the very concept of restriction in the information age of objectionable media to a safe harbor is a laughable relic from a time before broadband connections. In the United States, we can witness this obsolescence when a decade-old FCC case finally gets ruled on, or when a Midwestern city is ordered to give a million dollars to a porn store.

But if it quacks like bullshit, it probably is, and sure enough the Borsenverein (the German book trade association) soon issued a statement that reports of a curfew was “misleading”, and though the story did indeed emerge from a complaint against a book of erotica, the ruling and its enforcement was much more credible than first reported.

The specific case described in the presentation relates to so-called “inadmissible/objectionable content” (“unzulässige Inhalte”) according to § 4 Par. 2 of the JMStV. This includes pornographic content, indexed content and any adult-themed content that is clearly inappropriate for minors. The cause for the complaint was a situation in which a book that was classified as pornographic by Bavaria’s New Media Office (the Bayerische Landeszentrale für neue Medien or BLM) was openly available via Germany’s wholesale book database, even though such content is permitted only in closed user groups where age verification and authentication are required in each case and for each use.

In reality, the decision was less of a blunt and impractical approach to child protection and more of a debate over interpretation, focusing on how different types of adult content falls under which “level” under the current law. As for the hottershed, it’s one of many ways to enforce the law, but it was never going to apply to sexy German ebooks.

However, as far as we know, such time limits are almost never used. The JMStV provides other protection possibilities for such content and these are used much more predominantly: they include restrictions with regard to technical distribution (e.g. the use of age verification systems) or special youth protection programs.

In our opinion, the latter form of protection is the most feasible. Indeed, it makes little sense for booksellers or online platforms to be responsible for the classification of content.

So German retailers and publishers now may begin the protracted process of working out exactly what to do here, reminding us that obscenity legislation is an alternately exhausting and absurd cultural merry-go-round both at home and abroad. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming, while children can return to their regular ebook purchases if they were ever doing that in the first place, and their parents can return to being oblivious of how much porn their children are actually consuming.

 

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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