With Ofcom recently publishing its roadmap to regulation for the Online Safety Bill, content sharing platforms and service providers should begin to prepare themselves for incoming regulatory requirements.

The Online Safety Bill (the Bill), which has been the source of a huge amount of commentary already, aims to moderate user generated content and impose new obligations on platforms and online service providers that permit the sharing of user generated content. 

One key way in which it aims to accomplish this is by appointing Ofcom to regulate the new legislation and issue codes of practice. Service providers or platforms should pay close attention to these codes as, although they are not intended to be mandatory, complying with the new codes will mean that the provider will be treated as adhering to the requirements of the Bill.

The Bill is expected to receive royal assent in early 2023, and anticipates that Ofcom’s powers will come into force two months later. Consequently, Ofcom may begin the process of publishing the new codes of practice as soon as March 2023.

However, the Bill is still subject to change. Indeed the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, recently stated that she wants to “tweak” the Bill to ensure that it does not harm freedom of expression.

Video game developers or, publishers will generally be subject to this new legislation if their online game or platform allows for users or players to generate, upload or share content with others or if it enables content to be found using a search function.

Ofcom’s roadmap prioritises publishing codes of practice in relation to user generated content that is likely to be accessed by children to ensure that those children are not exposed to age inappropriate content. 

Again, video games are likely to fall into this category as according to research undertaken by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe in 2021, 68% of 6  to 10 year olds and 79% of 11 to 14 year olds played video games in Europe. 

Clearly there will be other factors to consider when assessing if a specific game may be accessed by children, however these statistics show the potential impact of the incoming codes of practice.

Ofcom has stated that it intends to carry out a consultation process and provide draft guidance before publishing any codes of practice. 

This means that video game businesses and professionals will be able to monitor or even contribute to the consultation before any codes are issued, and will gain an extra year to begin to amend their own systems and procedures in the meantime, as Ofcom expects to publish the first codes of practice around mid-2024. Ofcom has also stated that its aim is to provide clarity and simplicity in the codes, to aid swift adoption.

With these changes on the horizon, now is the time for video game studios and publishers distributors to review their existing procedures for monitoring content shared within their games and prepare for the changes that are to come. 

Our team of video game and interactive entertainment experts are available to help businesses and professionals to carry out this review and advise businesses in anticipation of the new codes of practice.

If you are interested in reading more about the other changes being brought in by the Online Safety Bill you can access our earlier article here. If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article please contact:

Laura Harper, Partner, laura.j.harper@irwinmitchell.com or Chris Crentsil, Christopher.Crentsil@irwinmitchell.com.

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