Memorandum submitted by the Department
for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business,
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
1. The Internet and video games are relatively
new media platforms which are significantly changing the way people
consume, interact with and create audio-visual content. There
has been a shift from single content producers or broadcasters
creating something that millions of people watch to millions of
people creating and reacting to content for the benefit of millions.
Within this change the exposure to positive content on the one
hand and harmful content on the other becomes more difficult to
manage. This is an important issue and one which the Government
takes extremely seriously.
2. This note will go on to cover the action government
is taking across the issues highlighted by the Committee but first
it is important to demonstrate the benefits and developments that
have been enabled by these media platforms.
3. There are many positive opportunities
offered by the Internet and computer games. The Internet has revolutionised
many aspects of our lives, and it has done so incredibly quickly.
Even as little as 10 years ago we had no idea of the impact that
it would have on us. Knowledge has never been more accessible
and for those looking for information quicklywhether in
school, college, office-based, or in our personal livesit
is hard now to imagine a world without internet search engines.
The Internet provides instant access to a world of expertise.
The UK has seen one of the fastest growing broadband markets in
Europe with 99.8% of households able to access broadband. There
are approximately 17 million broadband connections in the UK.
4. The Internet enables the sharing of ideas
between people all around the world. And, in more practical terms,
it provides access to goods that might otherwise be hard to track
down (an out of print book from a second-hand bookshop at the
other side of the country, for example); even on a local basis,
it provides access to goods and services when that might otherwise
be difficult (if someone is ill, for example), and it can provide
access to community services that can be a life-line in some circumstances:
to mothers at home with new babies, for instance, or to those
suffering from a particular condition or illness, or just those
who share a common interest.
5. Libraries are, for example, already gearing
up for a new generation of online users who are technologically
knowledgeable and who integrate information access and use in
all spheres of their lives to an unprecedented degree. The so
called net generation, share certain key characteristics, including:
being accustomed to media-rich
entertainment and computing;
being proficient in using many
kinds of media;
multi-tasking as the accepted
norm for their personal, social and work activities;
blurring distinctions between
workplace and home, and cyberspace; and
preferring to build a wide,
sustained network of connections via technology.
6. Computer games are increasingly becoming
part of the lives of millions of UK citizenssome 59% of
the UK population play them and this continues to grow as the
games evolve and different types of people take them up. The popular
image of the video games player as a teenage male sitting alone
playing a "shoot-em up" for many hours in succession
is increasingly being challenged. The average age of gamers is
now 28 and whilst gaming has tended to appeal more strongly to
males in the past, it is now generally accepted that women represent
a growing percentage of the of the games audience. According to
the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association
(ELSPA), one in four womenmore than ever beforenow
play video games. In addition, developments such as the Nintendo
Wii and Sony's "Buzz!" and the SingStar games, have
made game playing more socially interactive. An innovation such
as Nintendo's "Dr Kawashima's Braintraining" has proved
popular with older age-groups and is a good example of a game
designed to be played for a short period each day rather than
for lengthy sessions.
7. The Internet is also a tremendous source
of enjoyment where we can download music, films and games and
as with video games, more people are participating. Women aged
25-34 spend over 20% more time online than their male counterparts.
"Silver Surfers" also spend an increasing amount of
time on Internet use with nearly 30% of total time spent on the
Internet accounted for by over-50s.
8. There is also a potential for games to
promote better health. There are several examples of games being
tested in therapeutic applications (for example, with patients
suffering from post traumatic stress) and the latest generation
of games include some which focus on physical activity, such as
the dancemat games, games for the Nintendo Wii and the forthcoming
Wii Fit game and its accompanying Balance Board peripheral which
is wholly aimed at giving users a fun way to monitor and improve
9. Virtual worlds such as Second Life
(SL) offer a range of potential benefits to the consumer and to
both public and private sector organisations. The National Physical
Laboratory has been using Second Life for scientific knowledge
transfer with international colleagues in NASA. Universities and
the public sector are currently piloting the use of SL for use
in healthcare and other fields of research which will ultimately
benefit the consumer.
10. Government is interested in the potential
educational benefits of video games. There is evidence that the
content of some games can support learning for people of all ages
through offering a safe and structured environment where students
can explore and develop solutions to specific problems.
Interactive content also offers advantages for developing personalized
learning. A game typically offers a framework with learnable rules
in which the scope to explore, evaluate and test has applications
for learning scenarios. Furthermore, computer games could have
a specific role in engaging and motivating learners, including
those disaffected or previously hard to reach. All these and related
issues are explored in great detail for example in Steven Johnson's
book Everything Bad is Good For You which challenges perceptions
that video games are detrimental to cognitive development and
sets out to demonstrate that children learn valuable problem solving
and other skills from them.
11. Examples of games supporting curriculum-based
learning that have been showcased by Government include 3T Productions'
Sonica Spanish game produced for the then Department for
Education and Skills (DfES) and which successfully uses a range
of activities including dancemat games and an interactive adventure
game to support Spanish language training for 7-11-year-olds.
More recently, Sony Computer Entertainment have worked in partnership
with DfES to develop an educational version of their popular game
Buzz! Buzz!: The Schools Quiz features questions based
around Key Stage 2 National Curriculum content and offers teachers
additional, highly engaging tools to help reinforce learning.
12. Organisations like Futurelab, chaired
by Lord Puttnam, are doing a great deal of exciting work in this
area. In 2005 and 2006, along with leading games industry publisher
Electronic Arts, and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe,
Futurelab carried out a research project investigating the potential
for commercial off-the-shelf games in classrooms. The project
enabled Futurelab to set out a strategy for the inclusion of games
in future lesson plans. With this research, Futurelab and its
partners hope to make it easier for teachers to be aware of the
ways in which games may be used in their teaching, by describing
the barriers and successes encountered by the teachers with whom
they have been working.
13. Several Government Departments are also
actively exploring the area of educational games or "serious
games" as the industry calls themie games content
and technology which looks to support purposeful and educational
objectives. The Ministry of Defence (MoD), for example, has been
looking for some time at using games content to support infantry
communication, decision-making skills and post-exercise review
with their DIVE projects. MoD also commissioned from UK developers
TruSim a prototype game, Trauma Trainer, to demonstrate the potential
for serious application of games in defence medicinein
this case by supporting learning around field medical decision-making.
With match funding from the Government's Technology Programme,
TruSim (a division of Blitz Games) are now embarked upon a £2
million project applying skills and technology used in video games
to create demonstrators for a range of serious training applications.
Topics of interest for educational application are very broad:
other areas under active consideration include scenario-based
games to support civil and emergency planning, games to get across
key messagesfor example about climate changeand
games to help citizens gain a better understanding of how Government
policy making is taken forward.
14. We should not underestimate the importance
of the games industry to the UK economy. In 2006 games generated
£2 billion in retail sales in the UK and following the full
launch onto the market of the latest generation of powerful games
consolesMicrosoft's X Box 360, Sony's Playstation3 and
the Nintendo Wiiit is expected that sales figures for 2007
will increase to £3.4 billion.
15. According to Playing for Keeps,
an independent study carried last year by consultants Games Investor
for UK Trade and Investment, in 2006 the UK was the fourth largest
computer games producer in the world by revenue after the US,
Japan and Canada. An estimated £370 million was spent on
games development in the UK in 2006 and we have the highest number
of computer games development and publisher companies in Europe
with around 160 development studios and 70 publishers. The UK
industry employs some 22,000 people including 8,000 in games development.
16. Government views the games industry
as strategically important to the UK and for our ambitions for
the modern knowledge economy. Games are a key driver for consumer
take-up of new technologies. Games developers are frequently at
the cutting edge of creativity and innovation given their drive
to respond to increasing expectations of consumers and advancements
of new communications platforms.
17. Games companies are major investors
in research and development and offer high-skilled and high value
employment. Games technology and the skills of the industry are
often transferred to other contexts, particularly in a more converged
digital media world.
18. Convergence has opened up major revenue
opportunities for the producers of many content types. Over the
first half of 2007, 90% of UK singles sales by volume came from
digital downloads to the computers or a mobile handset. This could
be indicative of changes in the computer games market to come.
Already millions of consumers worldwide now engage in shared online
19. The Government wants to ensure that
people benefit from the positive opportunities offered by the
Internet and video games, and to empower them to avoid and manage
the negatives. Where these new technologies are being exploited
by those seeking to harm or exploit others, we have taken concrete
steps which are described in the sections below. As the technology
is advancing extremely rapidly, we are continuing to monitor developments
in these sectors to ensure the actions we take to protect people
continue to be proportionate and evidence-based.
20. Cyberbullying is the use of new technology,
particularly mobile phones and the Internet, to bully, intimidate
and harass. The Department for Children, Schools and Families'
(DCSF) main anti-bullying guidance for schools, Safe to learn:
Embedding Anti-Bullying Work in Schools, was issued in September
2007 and included a specific section on cyberbullying, reflecting
the rise in this particularly pernicious form of harassment, and
the concern with which it is viewed by schools, parents, children,
the wider community, and the Government.
21. DCSF commissioned Childnet International
to develop the cyberbullying guidance; it helps teachers to identify,
prevent and intervene in cases of cyberbullying; and advises on
how to educate young people about the responsible use of new technology.
22. Discipline provisions in the Education
and Inspections Act 2006 give school staff the power to confiscate
mobile telephones and to discipline pupils for bad behaviour outside
the school gates. Therefore, if a school is made aware that cyberbullying
has occurred outside school but affects pupils within it, we would
expect schools to discipline the pupils responsible for the bullying
and put in place measures to tackle bullying.
23. DCSF ran a digital campaign on cyberbullying
in partnership with ChildLine International between September
and December last year, specifically targeted at 12-15-year-olds,
using key websites, including Myspace, Bebo, MSN and Yahoo. Entitled
Laugh at it, and you're part of it, the materials showed
what action young people can take to minimise the risk of being
cyberbullied and be sensitive to how they can be tacitly complicit
in cyberbullying by, for example, passing on malicious e-mails
or sharing content.
24. DCSF also convened the Cyberbullying
Taskforce in 2006 as a response to growing concerns about cyberbullying.
It is made up of representatives of internet providers and mobile
phone companies, school staff unions, Becta, children's charities
and law enforcement agencies, and through this we are developing
a collaborative approach to finding effective solutions to the
whole cyberbullying problem.
25. Other partners are also producing new
materials to tackle cyberbullying: ParentLine Plus are, on behalf
of the Department, producing a leaflet for parents on how to protect
their children from cyberbullying as part of their Be Someone
to Tell programme; and Beatbullying are setting up a new programme
to train young people to be "cybermentors".
26. The Internet is an open access network.
Its international and often anonymous nature has made it easier
for users to disseminate offensive or even criminal content. Self-regulation,
media literacy, awareness and consumer empowerment are recommended
by both Government and the telecoms regulator Ofcom as the key
tools of preventing offensive content being disseminated.
27. The challenge lies in balancing freedom
of expression against technology being used for the display of
harmful and offensive material. The general law (on defamation,
racial hatred etc) is of course applicable online as it is offline.
And criminals have in fact on occasion been foolish enough to
post footage of themselves committing a crime and been prosecuted
as a result.
28. The Internet Service Providers Association
(ISPA) has a code of practice which members must comply with in
return for being entitled to use the ISPA logo. ISPs have contracts
with their customers concerning what may be hosted on their servers.
These contracts are called Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs). ISPs
can remove offensive or objectionable material, even if it is
not illegal. User Generated Content has a Code of Conduct setting
out conditions under which content can be posted. Material which
does not meet the conditions is removed.
29. All ISPs offering broadband to the UK
must put in place blocks to the child abuse websites as identified
by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) by the end of 2007. This
has been driven by the Home Secretary's Task Force. In addition
new ISPs or services should have measures in place within nine
months of offering the service to the public.
30. The IWF estimates that around 95% of
consumer broadband connections are now covered by a blocking mechanism
installed by their provider. This shows an excellent response
by the internet industry. The Government wants to reach 100%,
and is working with industry, charities and law enforcement agencies
to ensure that consumer internet broadband connections do not
facilitate access to illegal material such as images of child
31. In the UK, organisations which process
information relating to living, identifiable individuals are required
to comply with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.
The Act makes no distinctions based on age and children have the
same rights as adults (for example, the right to access personal
information and the right to request that information is not processed
where processing is likely to cause substantial damage or distress).
In practice, there will be occasions when a parent or guardian
acts on behalf of a child because the child is not capable of
understanding how to exercise their rights but, overall, it should
be remembered that children enjoy the same rights and are afforded
the same protection as adults.
32. Indeed, there is a strong argument that
service providers need to take extra care when processing information
about children to ensure compliance with the Act. For example,
there is a requirement that processing has to be "fair".
Fairness often involves explaining to individuals how, why and
by whom information about them will be used. Service providers
should ensure that the information they provide to children and
young people is appropriate for the user age groupwhat
might be within the reasonable expectations of, and fair to, adults,
might not be apparent or fair to children. In addition, privacy
friendly options available to children and young people should
be well signposted and easy to use for the collection of information
to be fair. Additionally, to be confident that information is
held securely, service providers should consider providing more
information to children about the security features available
such as how to choose a suitable password.
33. The Home Secretary's Task Force has
now completed the work on the Social Networking Guidance document.
The document sets out voluntary good practice guidelines for the
development and use of social networking websites such as Facebook,
MySpace and Bebo. The guidance has been developed with representatives
from all of the major players, and from law enforcement, charities
and government departments. The document has already attracted
significant interest globally, and is becoming the industry standard
for guidance on how to build and use these sites in a way that
helps protects children. The launch will be of interest to a large
number of groups, including the European Union, where Commissioner
Viviane Reding intends to launch a consultation regarding social
networking in February.
34. Offences of inciting religious or racial
hatred (or of inciting other related crimes) already apply to
spoken and written words both online and offline. But to target
this activity online, the Home Office has established a Hate Crime
Internet Working Group to consider short term and long term solutions
to the problem. This group reports to the overarching Tackling
Hate Crime Steering Group and works alongside the cross-Government
steering group on anti-Semitism, led by the Department for Communities
and Local Government. We are also working with the police and
the CPS to develop guidance on how best to prosecute cases of
internet hate crime. We are examining existing legislation to
consider whether any changes are required and engaging with the
industry and other key stakeholders to improve the arrangements
in place for dealing with hate related material.
35. The Internet is not a source of hatred
or extremism per se. But it is a channel currently being
exploited by those who might wish to spread hatred and extremism.
It is just one of a range of tools they use and other more traditional
channels existnewsletters, books, even radio and television.
We know it is used by terrorists both as an operational platform,
and as a tool for radicalisation and recruitment: we know the
Internet plays a part in influencing the radicalisation of many
of the individuals who have been involved in violent extremism
and terrorism to date. The degree of such influence via the Internet
may increase, as internet use in general increases.
36. Government is dedicating resources to
identify illegal material on the Internet, focusing on material
that is illegal under the Terrorism Act 2000 and/or 2006. This
will be material that either incites or encourages terrorism or
would prove useful in the preparation and commission of terrorist
acts. Internet Service Providers in the UK already remove illegal
material when it is flagged up to them. We now want to work with
ISPs and others in the industry to take a more proactive role
in identifying this material so that it can be removed if hosted
in the UK. We must rely on international partners for removing
material hosted elsewhere and we continue to work with them to
alert them to such material. We will work with the industry to
identify ways to limit the availability of illegal terrorism-related
material to internet users in the UK, particularly where that
material is hosted overseas and therefore cannot be removed.
37. There has been public concern about
the circulation of extreme pornographic material online as existing
controls on publication and distribution by the Obscene Publications
Act 1959 can be circumvented. Media interest in the availability
of violent and extreme pornography escalated with the murder of
Jane Longhurst, a special needs teacher in Brighton, by Graham
Coutts. The case attracted considerable publicity, as it was revealed
as part of the prosecution's case that Coutts frequently accessed
extreme pornographic websites depicting the sadistic treatment
of women. In passing sentence, the trial judge commented on the
easy availability of extreme pornographic material via the Internet
and the possible adverse influence which such material might have.
38. The Government is legislating in the
Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to create a new offence
of possession of extreme pornographic material. This will become
a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.
The proposals were published in August 2006 as part of the Government's
response to its consultation paper on the possession of extreme
pornographic material launched in 2005. Material covered includes
necrophilia, bestiality and violence that is life threatening
or would result in serious injury to the anus, breasts or genitals.
39. The new offence is not intended to target
those who accidentally come into contact with obscene pornography;
nor would it target the mainstream entertainment industry which
works within current obscenity laws. The Government is seeking
to close a gap in the law caused by the development of new technologies.
40. There is no conclusive link between
exposure to violent content and violent behaviour, however there
is some concern that they may contribute to a general atmosphere
in which violence is tolerated, glorified and even encouraged.
We are engaging with the industry and other key stakeholders to
improve the arrangements in place for dealing with violent content.
41. The current generation of video games
consoles all feature parental lock controls which allow parents
or guardians to restrict children's access to content. Method
of control differsfor example, they might allow parents
to set restrictions so they can decide on a case by case basis
whether games are suitable for individual children or locks can
be set to control access based on the age-ratings that games carry.
42. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
deals with some illegal and harmful material. It was set up in
1996 following an agreement between the Government, Police and
the Internet Service Provider (ISP) industry that a partnership
approach was needed to tackle the distribution of child abuse
43. IWF is the only authorised organisation
in the UK operating an Internet hotline for the public and IT
professionals to report their exposure to potentially illegal
internet content such as websites, newsgroups and online groups.
44. IWF works in partnership with ISPs,
Telecoms companies, Mobile operators, software providers, police
and the UK government to minimise the availability of illegal
internet content, particularly child abuse images. It is the only
authorised organisation in the UK operating an internet hotline
for the public and IT professionals to report their exposure to
potentially illegal internet content such as websites, newsgroups
and online groups that:
contain images of child abuse,
hosted anywhere in the world;
contain adult material that
potentially breaches the Obscene Publications Act and is hosted
in the UK; or
contain criminally racist material
hosted in the UK.
45. The IWF passes reports to ISPs so that
they can remove illegal material. If the ISP fails to remove the
site following notification they are liable to prosecution.
46. This and other illegal material can
also be reported to the police in the usual way that any illegal
activity would be reported. For material that is simply inappropriate
rather than illegal, many parents and businesses use filtering
systems which allow them to control the images and information.
47. One of Andrew Gowers's recommendations
following his 2006 review of the intellectual property regime,
was that the Government should "Observe the industry agreement
of protocols for sharing data between ISPs and rights holders
to remove and disbar users engaged in `piracy'. If this has not
proved operationally successful by the end of 2007, Government
should consider whether to legislate". The Government recognise
the value of the current discussions between ISPs and rights-holders,
and would very much prefer to see the adoption of voluntary agreements
in this area. However, we have made it clear that we will not
hesitate to legislate in this respect should it be required. To
that end, we will consult on the form and content of regulatory
arrangements in Spring 2008.
48. As a general rule, and with exceptions
for material that is illegal, simply unacceptable or can be demonstrated
to cause harm, we support the principle that adults should be
free to choose what websites they access or what computer games
they play. But we can all agree that there is content on the Internet
and in games that is not appropriate for children. There is already
a classification system in place for computer games, designed
to provide parents with information on a game's contents. It is
an offencepunishable by up to six months in prison and
a fine of up to £5,000to supply a physical copy of
a game that contain gross violence or sexual material to someone
who doesn't meet the age classification. That is because games
with that adult content fall under the terms of the Video Recordings
Act. All other hard copies of games are covered by the Pan European
Games Information (PEGI) system. The PEGI system also extends
to online games, and parents can check via the familiar classification
system that any game their child is using online is suitable for
their age group.
49. However, we need to be sure that the
classification system is effective. And we need to bear in mind
that, other than for computer games, there is no classification
system in place for most online content. The role of parents is,
therefore, crucial. Parents, ultimately, are the arbiters of everything
that child sees, but sometimes they may need help in having the
confidence and will to take control of their children's viewing.
Many parents are highly media literate. But where they are not
we need to help them become so.
50. These are some of the reasons why the
Prime Minister asked Dr Tanya Byron to lead a review. She is reviewing
the evidence on risks to children's safety and wellbeing of exposure
to harmful or inappropriate material on the Internet and in video
games; and assessing the effectiveness and adequacy of existing
measures to help prevent children from being exposed to such material
and help parents understand and manage the risks of access to
inappropriate content; and to making recommendations for improvements
or additional action. Dr Byron will be presenting her final report
in March and we do not want to pre-empt her findings and our consideration
51. The issue of content regulation in video
games but perhaps more so online is a very complex one. The technologies
are developing faster than regulatory measures can be assessed
and the lack of a combined global strategy adds to this complexity.
We have to make sure that any government measures are proportionate,
evidence based and flexible enough to cope with changes in the
way that media is both created and consumed so as not to stifle
new business models before they have even emerged. But through
all this change we have to be sure that appropriate protections
are in place.
1 Explored in ELSPA's Unlimited Learning report
2006 and Learning and Teaching Scotland's report on Game-Based
learning, 2007. Back
Steven Johnson. Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's
Popular Culture is Actually Making us Smarter. Penguin Books