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Sloppy legislative drafting

from The Times, Wednesday 19 May 1982

Letters to the Editor

When shop could be a 'cinema'
From Mr David Fisher
Sir, It is rather surprising that the unwanted side-effects of the Cinematograph Bill, currently passing through Parliament, have not yet been more widely publicised. Although the Bill is intended ostensibly to bring commercial cinema clubs—and possibly video screenings in pubs—within the terms of cinematograph licensing regulations, the wording of §2 is such that any display of moving pictures leading to "private gain" (the Bill's qualifying phrase) would be affected.
        Thus, a shop displaying the video programmes which are there offered for sale would become a "cinema" with all that entails in terms of licensing, fire regulations, British film quota and Eady levy requirements.
        Moreover, by extension, any point-of-sale display using video, whatever the commodity being sold, is in furtherance of private gain and thus open to classification as a cinematograph exhibition. Similarly affected would be industrial training courses (even when run in-company they are intended to enhance private gain), conferences, sales representatives' portable audio-visual desktop kits, the front-of-house video displays now appearing outside some cinemas, even videotex terminals and receivers.
        Dismissing a suspicion that the Home Office might actually want to be able to license and control all moving pictures in this way, one can only hope that the Bill will be withdrawn in favour of one better tailored to its intended purpose. It would clearly be most destructive—especially in Information Technology Year—if it were left to a succession of lengthy and costly lawsuits to redefine the meaning of "cinematograph exhibition for private gain" by means of case law.

Yours faithfully,
Editor, Screen Digest,
37 Gower Street, WC1.
May 14

David Fisher writes:
As a result of this letter the Bill was held up for re-drafting and finally received its third reading in the House of Commons on 9 July 1982.
        The dismissal of suspicion in the final paragraph was perhaps a little misjudged. Two years later, the Home Office-backed Video Recordings Act 1984 did indeed introduce licensing of all video releases, ostensibly to curb the threat of 'video nasties'. In practice these were dealt with under existing obscene publications legislation. Meanwhile, every video release, however innocent or innocuous, was required to be vetted and classified by the censors.

 Click here to contact David Fisher.

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