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, and videos given this certificate may only be shown in licensed cinemas, or sold direct to the buyer in person in licensed sex shops, and not by mail order or other remote means such as by telephone or over the Internet. According to the BBFC there are currently around 250 such licensed shops.
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 the depiction of acts which are illegal, degrading, violent or non-consensual. However, apart from these restrictions, it allows the depiction of most sex acts, including vaginal sexual intercourse, oral sex, masturbation, and anal sex, between any combination of men and women. It also has recently allowed the depiction of visibly consensual sexual bondage and very mild BDSM activities.
As of 2008, the broadcasting of R18 material is prohibited, even on encrypted digital channels.
The R18 classification was created in 1982 in response to the recommendatations 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 the EU because of customs law harmonisation, and the widespread availability of unregulated pornography over the Internet.
In October 2004, the BBFC granted an 18 certificate for Michael Winterbottom's movie 9 Songs, which features a number of explicit scenes of unsimulated sex. However, the DVD extras for this film were given an R18 certificate.
In late 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.
As of 2006, the BBFC rated the film Destricted an 18 certificate.
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