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It’s Now Illegal to Sell Adult eBooks Before 10 PM in Germany

12115306_e839b0a22a_oGermany has just given us a graphic example of what can go wrong when one unthinkingly applies decades old legal concepts to modern web tech. 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).

Update: Or perhaps not. A publishing industry lawyer is disputing the accuracy of the early media reports. She says that there will be no curfew.

No, seriously, I’m not joking. Germany really does have this law (Jugendmedienschutz-Staatsvertrag, JMStV). It was passed in 2002 and has been on the books ever since then, but regulators only just now decided that it applied to ebooks.

According to Wikipedia, the law (JMStV) covers a number of areas, including "the protection of minors in advertising and teleshopping". In this case it is intended to protect kids from adult ebooks, and it is backed up by fines of up to 500,000 euros.

Given that the law was written in the internet era, I am astounded that regulators would actually apply it in this manner. (I am also astounded that the regulators had not noticed the erotica and other adult content in the ebookstores in the four years since the Kindle Store launched in Germany, but that’s a whole other issue.)

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?

Maybe they do believe that, but I can assure you that said sites worked fine when I visited one earlier today (it was strictly a work-related activity, I swear).

And apparently that is how they want the ebook retailers to operate. According to my sources, the retailers are going to have to start tracking which titles count as "youth-endangering" under German law. Those ebooks will have to be isolated in a specific section of each ebookstore, which (theoretically) can then be made invisible using filtering software.

In a way, the new classification and the new filter are not dissimilar to the adult filter Smashwords applies in its ebookstore. It is also similar to a suggestion I made in late 2013 just before everyone got caught up in that moral panic over self-published ebook erotica.

But not too similar; the new German adult section will of course contain a different cross section of content from the titles swept up in the purge in 2013. In addition to the aforementioned self-published titles, erotica titles published by legacy publishers will also be folded in.

It is not clear at this time how the ebook retailers will respond. I have queried my contacts at Kobo and Amazon, and will report back with their responses.

Until I get a response, I will be sitting here pondering the sheer pointlessness of this legal decision. Given the prevalence of adult content on websites outside of Germany, trying to control access on sites in Germany  is just nuts.

Even King Canute knew that he could not hold back the tide, but apparently German regulators lack that level of common sense.

image by Jan Tik

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puzzled June 20, 2015 um 6:49 am

This will, of course, result in increased sales of the aforementioned literature to minors in Germany.

Thomas June 20, 2015 um 10:19 am

Hey, as long as it gets the kids to read, it’s all good.

Ana June 20, 2015 um 10:35 am

I suspect there’s a similar law in other European countries , maybe it’s not specific for ebooks but at least here in Spain a web with special offers on certain brands only give access to an "adult toys" brand after 9 pm.

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I don’t know how companies such as Twitter decide on where I am, but they must think my den is on wheels, in a manner akin to some latter-day ursine Romany. This is, of course, untrue. I have taken up residence in a Solarian-Patrol-surplus dropship, Though the fusion landing-rockets are somewhat noisy.

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Jimmy June 23, 2015 um 6:08 am

Sounds a lot like the "TV watershed" rule in the UK.
I agree that it will be difficult to police, but sounds to me like a pretty sensible rule.

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Mark Kelly June 23, 2015 um 8:52 am

This isn’t anything particularly new- there was a limited amount of controversy when this was applied to games a few years back, when nobody could buy games which had certain ratings from Nintendo’s download service- however, because of either the way the law was worded or the way Nintendo interpreted it, as all their servers for Europe were situated in Germany, it meant nobody else across Europe could download them either- so not only is it supposedly illegal to sell these products within Germany, it’s also illegal to sell them *from* Germany.

I’m not sure how Nintendo have got around it (I know Nintendo’s 18-rated games can be downloaded around the clock in the UK now, but that’s about it) but its a little bit concerning that not only have German lawmakers spectacularly missed how the internet works, but also that it can have such an effect beyond its borders.

Nate Hoffelder June 24, 2015 um 9:10 am

Thanks for this! I just used this in a follow up post.

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