Germany Says You Can't Sell Adult Ebooks Until After 10 PM

from the the-internet-as-curtained-off-room dept

Why is it that many efforts made “for the children” are so stupid most tweens could point out the obvious flaws? Back during the discussion of the UK’s now-implemented ISP porn filtration system, Rhoda Grant of the Scottish Parliament wondered why the internet couldn’t be handled the same way as television, where all the naughty “programming” isn’t allowed to take to the airwaves until past the nationally-accepted bedtime.

“If there’s a watershed on the TV then why isn’t there one for the internet?”

The children are right to laugh at you, Ralph Rhoda.

Cutting through the mocking laughter comes the German government, armed with a law that has its origin in more captive content (movies — the kind shown in theaters) and attempting to apply it to the internet (ebook sales).

Heise.de and Boersenblatt reported on Friday and Thursday that the Jugendschutzbehörde (Youth Protection Authority) has handed down a new ruling which extended Germany’s Youth Media Protection Law to include ebooks.

As a result of a lawsuit (legal complaint?) over the German erotica ebook Schlauchgelüste (Pantyhose Cravings), the regulators have decided that ebook retailers in Germany can now only sell adult ebooks between 10 pm and 6 am local time (4 pm and midnight, eastern US).

The law behind this baffling proclamation states it is intended to protect children from coming to harm via “advertising or teleshopping.” It was written in 2002, and was no less stupid in its belief that it could somehow force online retailers to take certain items off the “shelves” for two-thirds of the day. It’s only receiving attention now because the Youth Protection Authority trying to hammer it into place over bits of the internet.

As Nate Hoffelder points out, the law’s origins date back further to a point when such an action was both a.) not thoroughly ridiculous and b.) could mostly be enforced.

Boersenblatt says that the 10 pm to 6 am window originally came from restrictions on adult cinema (where it made sense), but I still don’t understand what the regulators were thinking in applying that rule to the internet. Do they really believe that the adult internet, including porn sites, pirate sites, video sites, etc, is going to be turned off for 16 hours a day?

How will this work in practice? With lots of regulation, meddling, filtering and other stuff that won’t actually keep the determined from accessing the porny ebooks they’re looking for. Retailers selling ebooks in Germany (hello, Amazon!, etc.) will have to figure out what “youth-endangering” means, apply it to their existing ebook stock, and “wall off” those titles behind some sort of filtering system until 10 pm (local time) every night. Or else.*

*Unspecified legal action.

In other words, it won’t work. And I wouldn’t expect this application of the law to last for very long once larger internet retailers begin pointing out the amazing amount of unworkable flaws in this half-baked “plan” to save German kids from electronic erotica. I think the children this is supposed to protect will find that, when given the choice between hurtling a few governmental roadblocks for the opportunity to pay for written erotica and just, say, going almost anywhere else on the internet to get the same sort of stuff for free, they’ll do the latter. And no one will be saved, Youth Protection Authority or no. But the YPA gets to say it tried, and I guess that’s all that matters. It will just have to live with the mocking laughter.

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Comments on “Germany Says You Can't Sell Adult Ebooks Until After 10 PM”

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40 Comments
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Have we stopped to consider that this is their attempt to get the perfect censorship in place without having to write their own?
With each stupid thing they pass and expect the rest of the world to police them for they move closer to a nation geoblocked from everything… then the government can proclaim it isn’t their fault as they cut their citizens off from the world and knowing anything more than they government wants them to know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Adults are right to laugh at Techdirt: it's always for porn and piracy.

Wait, what?

At the risk of taking the troll bait… where does this article say anything about piracy, either for or against?

Or do you mean this line:

and just, say, going almost anywhere else on the internet to get the same sort of stuff for free

That’s not talking about piracy. There’s plenty of free original erotica on the internet. Putting the non-free stuff behind a block will just encourage people to go to the free stuff instead of buying.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Adults are right to laugh at Techdirt: it's always for porn and piracy.

Probably is referencing this line:

“Do they really believe that the adult internet, including porn sites, pirate sites, video sites, etc, is going to be turned off for 16 hours a day?”

But that line isn’t condoning piracy, it’s just stating a simple fact that piracy exists (and this law will probably have a side effect of pushing more people to it).

Anonymous Coward says:

“But the YPA gets to say it tried, and I guess that’s all that matters. It will just have to live with the mocking laughter.”

That is, unfortunately, a completely accurate summary.

Germany’s constitutional law has sweeping language about “youth protection” in key areas, which clashes harshly with several basic rights to freedom and has been the basis for a lot of hilariously ineffective and heavy-handed censorship-regimes throughout the history of the Federal Republic. Expect to see administrative boondoggles like this continue to emerge from Germany for the foreseeable future.

John85851 (profile) says:

Why do business there?

Seriously- at what point do these regulations become so unwieldy that companies stop doing business in these countries?

If Germany tells Amazon to create a “only after 10pm local time” filter, why can’t France or China? Should Amazon have to create rolling filters for each country and time zone?
What about competing sites? Will a smaller bookstore now have a competitive advantage if they don’t have these filters (though risking legal action)?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why do business there?

What I mean is companies should be free to say “I’m not in Germany, so fuck you!” In fact, that should be the case even if they sell books to German citizens. After all, when a German citizen travels to the United States and buys something, US law rather than German law applies. It should be the same on the Internet (except for things like warranties, merchantability, etc.).

any moose cow word says:

And how, exactly, do they plan to setup that time-based lock?

Base it on the users’ computer clock?
That can be changed.

Base it on the server’s clock and adjusting for timezone based on geolocation of the users’ IP address?
Kids are already adapt at using proxies to bypass web-filtering at school and home. Getting a foreign proxy in a different timezone isn’t that much harder.

Require companies to create special accounts for minors?
Considering how well adults tend to secure their own computers and accounts, especially when they depend on children to provide IT support, that’s bound to be ineffective as well. Besides, having special accounts for minors would require parental involvement.

There are other measures such as setting a curfew, both physically and electronically, but that requires rationally placing the responsibility of parenting on the parent rather than a company. The social morality police would have none of that nonsense! You can call them many things, but rational isn’t one of them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“And how, exactly, do they plan to setup that time-based lock?”

Like these things always happen – they palm the actual implementation over to someone else and have a scapegoat if it goes wrong or turns out to be impossible to implement effectively. I have no doubt that people are already telling the politicians that it’s ridiculous, but can’t get any traction because “it’s for the children” and the politicians need to “do something”.

Anonymous Coward says:

List A

“Retailers selling ebooks in Germany (hello, Amazon!, etc.) will have to figure out what “youth-endangering” means,”

There is a list for that called List A. The Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors ( http://www.bundespruefstelle.de/bpjm/Service/english.html ) has lists for all kinds of stuff that is youth-endangering. Books, video games, movies, music…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: List A

Nice link. However, it seems to me that it still puts a lot of pressure on individual companies:

“In case of content severely harmful to minors (“schwer jugendgefährdend”), the object does not need to be entered into the “index”, as the distribution restrictions mentioned above are effective automatically (§ 15 II JuSchG). This applies, for example, to any pornographic content or to other content that violates certain clauses of the German penal law, also to content glorifying war and content depicting minors in an unnatural and sexual posture.”

So… you can use the index, but some material is effectively banned without being on that index. Presumably the retailer has to do this themselves. Also:

“Media examined by the BPjM are: films (DVD, BluRay, etc.), games (PC, Playstation, Xbox, Wii, etc.), music (audio CDs, etc.), printed media (books, comic books, magazines, brochures, etc.) and internet sites. The examination takes place after the media’s publication.”

Two strange things I notice there. One is that this doesn’t mention non-printed books such as the eBooks being discussed here. Possibly an oversight or an outdated summary, but it does jump out. Secondly – it strikes me as being very strange that you can’t see if your book would end up on this list until after its publication. I wonder how much money people have lost because they published a product that’s then severely restricted after the stock has been manufactured, rather than simply being able to put together a censored and/or re-edited version that would not be on there in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: List A

Yes it is rather strange, weird, and very vague but that is how most of the laws in Germany are written or at least those that end up in the media.
Most of the time the lawmakers leave it to the courts to decide what the law actually means (i.e. Google can only use small/short pieces in their news search… what is small/short?)

And about the part that eBooks are missing well… the internet is something new to the german gov. In a leaked version of the website list they had links with session IDs… need I say more?

As I understand it the BPjM is censoring stuff in a broader scope. If you just had to re-edit some things to make your work “pass” then you’d have to deal with the USK which is the german version of PEGI but also rates movies and all sorts of things. Just as an example and please forgive me for bringing Hitler up but hey, Germany ;), you can’t rewrite “Mein Kampf” but you can remove some nazi flags from a game like “Wolfenstein”. First is BPjm 2nd is USK…

So you see? The “it is rather strange, weird, and very vague” statement is the most accurate you can probably get from a non lawyer.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: List A

OK, thanks for the explanation. I’d still say that reinforces Tim’s original point you quoted, since Amazon, etc., would still have to determine the status of things not on the list – especially since the determination of whether a work belongs on the list won’t even start until after they have it on their shelves.

As for the rest, I’m a veteran of the video nasty panic and other such idiocy in the UK. I’m familiar with vague, unworkable and ultimately counter-productive attempts at “for the children” censorship. Just a shame it’s so obviously ridiculous to the rest of us, but the people making the laws don’t understand facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 List A

Well, of course it does reinforce the original point. I never hoped to negate it. But Amazon and others might be able to use the offical list and then defend themselves in front of a court of course that they used everything availabel to them. And yes, it does suck so to say but it is the best they could do.

And to your 2nd paragraph, honestly I’m not so sure that “the people making the laws don’t understand facts” but my personal opinion is that they do understand the facts but don’t want to be held accountable for the outcome of the laws they make. If you make a law as vague as possible and the courts have to decide what it actually means then the courts are the “bad” guys and not “you”.
So my viewpoint is that they want to seem stupid but they actually just act as if they were. This way they have more room to argue in a reelaction.
And yeah… I just renewed my tinfoil-hat-monthly subscription. But hey, we had a good run so far given the gov spys on everyone aspect.

Anonymous Coward says:

…the regulators have decided that ebook retailers in Germany can now only sell adult ebooks between 10 pm and 6 am local time…

This right here is why folks who have no idea how the Internet works should have no business “regulating” it.

Poor, poor YPA – you probably understand children just as much as you understand the Internet.

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