Well, it's happened.
Last week, I was away on holiday. I charged my phone in the pub on the way home on Monday, and saw an email from ATVOD with the subject "Dreams of Spanking - Final Determination". It was sent on Friday 31 July, so had been waiting in my inbox for three days. I'm glad I didn't turn my phone on while I was away - that would have been a surefire way to ruin the last few days of my trip.
As it was, I wept all the way home. I've known this was coming for a while - in fact I've been anticipating it since I received the first letter from ATVOD in February. With this hanging over me it's been a ridiculously tense six months, and I thought that when the axe finally fell it would be a relief of sorts. But when it came, it just made the loss more real.
I've known it was coming, but I'm still in bits. I feel like I built a beautiful sustainable house to live in, of my own design, which was legal to build at the time - but now, just as I've finally perfected all the finishing touches, paid off my investment, decorated it and was settling down to live in it and enjoy it for many years to come, I've been told that the law has been changed, and it's being demolished. That's the closest analogy I can think of. I designed this project to perfectly suit my needs - creatively, erotically, financially. I spent five years working on it as a labour of love, and just as all that effort was starting to pay off, it's being taken away.
I built this site so I would have something that was completely my own. This is the project that was meant to save me from having to compromise myself, my alternative to spending the best years of my life working for other people. Dreams of Spanking represents my creative independence, my sexual self-acceptance, and my financial stability. It's mine, I made it, it works, it was the biggest thing I'd ever done - and just as it started to pay me a wage, it's being taken away from me.
I knew this was coming, but the grief is still fierce. Whenever I let myself feel it, I can't help crying. I am losing the best thing I've ever made, and there's nothing I can do about it. I've never felt so powerless.
Why I refuse to comply
As anticipated by their Preliminary View, the Determination finds me in breach of Rules 1 (notify them that I'm running a service), 4 (pay them to censor me), 11 (lock everything 'adult' behind a credit card paywall) and 14 (no content 'prohibited' by the BBFC guidelines, even behind the paywall). I have 20 working days from the date of the Determination - which was sent on 31 July but dated 30 July - to comply.
As I see it, I don't have any choice but to appeal ATVOD's decision. There's no way I can comply with their demands without compromising the core principles of the site. ATVOD are demanding we register with them and pay them protection money - which not only funds their extortion efforts, it also officially submits to their control and gives them the right to censor us.
They demand that we put all adult content (ie anything comparable to the '18' BBFC classification, defined as anything containing nudity or strong fetish content) behind a credit card paywall. That means no more free preview images, image blogposts, free protest videos, Creative Commons spanking films, birthday freebies or free trailers. It also means credit cards would be the only way anyone could access any of our material - no debit cards, and no alternative payment options such as gift cards or cash.
Not only that, but from its inception Dreams of Spanking was intended to be a new kind of porn site, one that didn't rely on the standard, scarcity-based structure of infrequently-updated tour pages and hidden-away members areas. Coming from a digital rights background, I wanted to see what would happen if I built a porn site that was as transparent and as accessible as possible. I wanted everyone to see what I had to offer - and I wanted to give away as much free content as possible, trusting that if you liked it, you would choose to support us by paying for your porn. The gamble paid off, and the Dreams of Spanking business model has been turning a profit since the first year. I am fiercely proud of our members for their support and loyalty, and happy to have a site which is open to all - a site that teaches everyone about the ethics and consent of feminist porn, and what safe, positive spanking play looks like, whether or not they can afford a site membership. It is galling that after four years of successfully proving this concept, regressive legislation is trying to force me back into the closeted porn world of the 1990s, in which nothing is visible, and only those with the economic privilege to own a credit card are allowed into the club.
ATVOD also demand that we take down any content which doesn't comply with the ridiculous AVMS guidelines. These prohibit acts including hard spanking or caning that leaves marks, welts or bruises, adults roleplaying as under-18s, full bondage with gags, and a whole raft of other activities that are perfectly valid parts of many people's kinky sexualities. It would gut the site: I estimate well over half of our content, and possibly three quarters of it, falls foul of ATVOD's Rule 14. Not only would complying with this rule strip Dreams of Spanking back to a pitiful, sanitised shadow of its former self, it would be contrary to the most basic tenet of feminist pornography - that of authenticity.
The acts that are banned under the new regulations are a core part of my own sexuality. I didn't ask to be someone who was turned on by the idea of hard spanking that leaves marks, beltings, canings, strappings, riding crop thrashings and all the rest. But since I was six years old, this has been a part of me. I've tried to ignore it, to repress it - but not only does the attempt make me miserable, it doesn't work; trying to control these fantasies just makes them more potent. If, like me, you are turned on by sexual fantasies of hard corporal punishment, the best way to respond is by loving and accepting these fantasies as a true part of your sexuality. Since learning to accept my kink, I have been happier and more fulfilled than ever - and I have not only been lucky enough to act out my fantasies in more ways than I ever imagined, I have found an amazing community of likeminded people who share my enthusiasm.
If I were to pretend that these fantasies aren't a part of me, I would be undoing all that positive work of self-acceptance. It would be like pretending I was straight because it was illegal to be queer. If I were to remove these authentic depictions of my erotic life from Dreams of Spanking, I would be being fake. It is impossible for me comply with ATVOD's demands and still be true to myself; it is impossible for me to comply and still produce feminist porn. Expressing an authentic sexuality is one of the first principles of feminist porn. I don't want to become a fake porn star - and I refuse to lie about who I am.
So what happens next?
On Monday evening, as soon as I got home, I removed the CCBill signup link from our Join page. I'm afraid it's no longer possible to buy a membership to Dreams of Spanking - if you are not a member, I'm very sorry that you've missed your chance. Existing members will be able to access our members-only scenes until 27 August (20 working days after the date of the Determination).
With the help of the legal team at Backlash, I will be appealing to Ofcom (that's the UK Office of Communications, the government body for which ATVOD, a private company, act as unelected bailiffs). But while the appeal is underway, I still need to jump through various hoops if I don't want to jeopardise the process. All our spanking films and photos have to go offline on 27 August, and will remain offline until - unless - we win the appeal.
I don't know how long the appeal will take - a year, maybe more. Hopefully we will be able to announce a triumphant re-launch sometime in 2016 or 2017.
On the 27th, all remaining memberships will be frozen, and all our spanking films and photos will be taken offline.
I'm sorry. But I'm also angry: and I am going to fight.
This isn't the end of Dreams of Spanking - it's the beginning of a long journey to defend our freedom, and fight for the right to kinky self-expression in the UK. We're not the first to be targeted by ATVOD, and we certainly won't be the last. If you want to support the fight, please write to your MP, donate to Backlash, and tell everyone you know what's happening.
Although this site was created to document my personal journey of kinky discovery, it grew into a community - a warm, welcoming, non-judgemental place where we could enjoy our kinks together.
Let's fight together too.
After announcing ATVOD’s final determination that Dreams of Spanking is in breach of their ridiculous regulations, and that I will have to take most of the site’s content offline by 27 August, I'm being asked the same two questions again and again. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me this I would be able to afford my own legal fees.
I've already answered these questions in previous blogposts, so apologies for the repetition, but apparently it needs saying again. Please read, digest, and kindly trust that I have in fact thought about what I’m doing.
Why don’t I move the site so it’s hosted out of the UK?
Simply moving the hosting of the site wouldn’t help. When ATVOD are determining where a site is based, they don’t just look at the physical location of the server on which the site is hosted, they also look at the where the service provider is based (that is, the person or persons who own or operate the site). The relevant phrase here is “editorial control”.
If a site is hosted out of the UK, but the service producer is a UK citizen, who resides in the UK and makes editorial decisions in the UK, then for ATVOD’s purposes, the site is based in the UK. If videos are produced and shot in this country, edited in this country, and uploaded from this country, all these things contribute to bringing the site under ATVOD’s jurisdiction. If meetings are held in the UK, business decisions are made in the UK, and the programming schedule of the video-on-demand service is planned in the UK, then editorial control is, according to ATVOD, based in the UK.
Some producers have successfully avoided ATVOD so far by moving their hosting overseas,but keeping editorial control in the UK and hoping ATVOD doesn't notice. This isn't an option for me. I was on Channel 4 News talking about the new regulations after the facesitting protest, I've spoken on BBC Woman's Hour, at Conway Hall and at the National Theatre about my work as a porn producer, and there is zero chance of ATVOD not noticing I existed. Once they started investigating Dreams of Spanking, they would have quickly worked out that I was still operating the site from a UK base, and all the hassle of moving the hosting would have been for nothing. I have called too much attention to myself as an activist to be able to escape ATVOD by hopeful half measures.
In December, when the law came in, I was given them impression by the people I consulted that moving the site was not an option. After I got the first letter from ATVOD in February, and replied to it from a UK address, I began to work out that it might be an option - but by then it was too late, they already knew I was based in the UK. To escape ATVOD at any point since then would involve not just moving the hosting - I would also have to give up editorial control.
Giving up editorial control would look like this: I would sell the site to a friend in another country, move the hosting, the CCBill account, and the payments to their name, sign over commercial rights to all the archive content and everything I'd shot but not yet edited or published. I would no longer be able to shoot for the site, edit video for it, decide the update schedule or have any say in the running of the site. I would have to completely distance myself from the project in every way. Dreams of Spanking is a personal project, and as far as I'm concerned, once this had happened the site would no longer be Dreams of Spanking. It would no longer be mine.
Selling the site would mean killing it, stepping back, and let someone else reincarnate it as something completely new, based in a new country, with new cast members, new performers, and a new creative vision. I would lose the site completely - more completely than from ATVOD forcing me to take it offline, because at the moment I have the hope of a successful appeal, but if I sold the site, there would be no hope, and I would lose it forever.
Dreams of Spanking is my erotic autobiography, the expression of my own personal kink and fantasies, and I don't want to lose it. That's the whole point. I don't want to have to comply with ridiculous censorship regulations that would change it beyond recognition, and I don't want to have to give it to someone else who would change it beyond recognition, either. I want to fight for my right to keep it. That means appealing to Ofcom, and if that fails, taking the AVMS regulations to Judicial Review. If I win the appeal I can re-launch the site and keep it online exactly as it always was, with no ATVOD censorship, no guidelines to comply with, no fees to pay and no-one else telling me what to do. If I lose the appeal but win a Judicial Review, then I can get the law changed for everyone in the UK. This is something worth fighting for - and it's a plan of action that depends on complying with ATVOD's demands long enough for the appeal process to be completed, and keeping the site in the UK and under my control in the meantime. If I move the site overseas now, there is no hope of winning either the appeal or a JR.
If, a few years from now, both of these options have failed, then as a last resort, I would consider selling the site. But everything I've done so far, all the choices I've made, have been geared towards the goal of defeating ATVOD in a legal challenge. It would be completely self-defeating to sell it now, without seeing the plan through to the end.
Why don’t I move myself overseas, and emigrate to a different country?
Of all the well-intentioned, idiotic questions I am asked, this one hurts the most. It’s ridiculously insensitive to tell me that I should give up my entire life and everyone I love - to tell me that it's my responsibility to give up everything I have, implying that by not emigrating, what's happening is somehow my fault. If you want to support me, do not suggest this!
Emigrating is one of the biggest, most traumatic things anyone can ever do. It’s my decision to make, and mine alone. Do you think I haven’t considered this possibility? Of course I bloody have - I considered it and rejected it months before you even found out was happening. You are idly suggesting the first thought that popped into your head, and I've been living the reality of this struggle for nine months now. When you ask me this, you are suggesting that you don't think I've thought of the idea - which is pretty insulting. You also make it clear that you are completely incapable of grasping the enormity of what you're suggesting.
I’ve said this before but apparently it hasn’t sunk in, so I’m going to quote my previous post about this:
Quite aside from the stress and ultimate futility of moving away, however, this question makes me furious. The UK is my home. Why should I be the one to leave? I grew up here. My life is here. My support network, my partner, my friends, my history and my family are here. My partner and lovers couldn't come with me, and I don't want to lose all the connections I've spent thirty years building on these shores. I love these islands and I want to stay here and help make them better. I don't want to jump ship.
Attempting to persuade me and other UK producers that we should willingly exile ourselves is traumatic, stressful and victim-blaming. By doing this you are helping the censors who want to cleanse the UK of anything they find distasteful. Stop it.
ATVOD are threatening the future of independent, alternative, ethical porn within the UK. This is an issue I have devoted years of my life to, and which I care deeply about. I don't want to spend my time, money and effort running away. I want to stand and fight.
So are you with me - or not?
I believe that I have strong grounds for appeal - and that even if Ofcom don’t agree, that there is a very real hope that I can get the AVMS guidelines overturned in a court of law. That is the process I’m now embarking on, and it’s going to be stressful enough without you trying to tell me that I should give up without trying and run away. If I sell the site I will lose Dreams of Spanking, and if I emigrate I will lose my home. Do me a favour and trust that I’ve thought about this already, and that I’m choosing the path that is best.
My goal is to stay in the UK, stay the sole owner of Dreams of Spanking, and successfully challenge ATVOD's censorship. I am taking legal steps to make this happen, and I am going to see it through. The only result of your “helpful suggestion” will be to waste my time and stress me out, which is the last thing I need right now. So please think before you speak, and understand that when someone is going through a difficult time, they have probably spent far longer thinking in depth about their options than you have.