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The Cost of Censorship

The Classification Act requires any person who wishes to sell, hire, exchange or loan, in the course of any business, any film, video or DVD, to obtain a label for that film, video or DVD from the Film and Video Labelling Body. The Labelling Body is a private organisation representative of producers, distributors and exhibitors that exercises statutory functions independently of the Classification Office. The law imposes no labelling obligations on purchasers, or on persons who supply films, videos or DVDs otherwise than in the course of any business (for example, to their friends and family). Censorship costs are one factor that retailers consider before deciding whether or not to stock a title. Other factors include import and distribution costs, and the appeal a title is likely to have.

Before issuing a label, the Labelling Body will cross-rate, rate, or refer the DVD (hereafter this article will assume a DVD of 3 ½ hours duration) to the Classification Office. The Labelling Body will cross-rate any DVD rated G, PG or M in Australia, or Uc, U, PG or 12A in the United Kingdom for $27 plus GST(1).The Labelling Body will rate any DVD title not previously rated in Australia or the United Kingdom for $210 plus GST(2). Once a DVD title has been rated or classified, a person may supply an unlimited number of identical copies to the public provided each is labelled. The labels cost 7 cents each.

The Labelling Body will refer a DVD to the Classification Office if it has been classified MA15+ or higher in Australia, or 15 or higher in the United Kingdom, or if the Labelling Body is of the view that the DVD has content that would be restricted under New Zealand law. It charges $25 plus GST for this referral.

Both the United Kingdom and Australia also require DVDs to be rated and labelled. Neither country has the equivalent of a Labelling Body. Neither country cross-rates from any other jurisdiction. The starting fee for the classification of a DVD of any length in Australia is NZ$647. The United Kingdom charges NZ$221.67 plus NZ$17.74 per minute running time.

Reflecting New Zealand’s much smaller market, the establishment of the Labelling Body has kept censorship compliance costs in New Zealand significantly lower than equivalent costs in Australia and the United Kingdom. Approximately 85% of the New Zealand market is rated, cross-rated and labelled by the Labelling Body.

If the Labelling Body refers a DVD to the Classification Office, a classification fee of $1,100 is prescribed in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Fees) Regulations 1994, regardless of running time. This fee has not changed since 1 July 1996. The prescribed fee for a 3 ½ hour DVD in Australia is NZ$1,282 and in the United Kingdom NZ$3,945.

Although the classification fee is prescribed by regulation, the Chief Censor has the power to waive up to 75% of the prescribed fee, if it would be unfair, unreasonable or unduly burdensome to charge the full prescribed fee. Up to 75% of the fee will be waived if the applicant can provide evidence that the DVD is old, has artistic or cultural value or importance, is relatively unavailable and that the supply of the DVD is unlikely to produce commercial gain. Film festivals regularly apply for fee waivers; DVD retailers do so less frequently, even though titles that have screened at film festivals and have been classified for the 75% waived fee and have had no subsequent commercial distribution for two years, could be made available for the Labelling Body cost of $27 plus GST plus 7 cents per label.

The Chief Censor also has the power to treat a group of titles as one DVD for fees purposes if, once again, it would be unfair, unreasonable, or unduly burdensome to require the payment of the full prescribed fee. Film festivals regularly apply to have short film programmes treated as one DVD. Commercial distributors also regularly apply to have box sets of television show DVDs grouped together.

The following chart compares New Zealand censorship fees with those in Australia and the United Kingdom. The comparison is for a DVD of 3 ½ hours running time. Calculations include GST and VAT. Australian dollars and pounds sterling are translated to their New Zealand dollar equivalents as at 12 June 2009.

Chart of costs

A NZ$30.38 The fee for any DVD rated G, PG or M in NZ, G, PG or M in Australia, and Uc, U, PG or 12A in the UK.
B NZ$236.25 The fee for any DVD over 2 hours to be rated G, PG, or M.
C NZ$275.00 The fee for any DVD to be classified by the OFLC waived by 75%.
D NZ$1,100.00 The fee for any DVD to be classified by the OFLC.
E NZ$647.00 The base fee for any DVD to be rated or classified in Australia.
F NZ$1,282.00 The fee for a 3 ½ hour DVD to be rated or classified in Australia.
G NZ$221.67 The base fee for any DVD to be rated or classified in the UK.
H NZ$3,945.00 The fee for a 3 ½ hour DVD to be rated or classified in the UK.


(1) Examples of films rated or cross-rated G, PG, or M from the Labelling Body's database and which are now available at this price include Fassbinder’s Chinese Roulette, Effi Briest, Martha, Fear of Fear; films The Man from Hong Kong, Dark Horse, Indiscretion of an American Wife, Le Notti Bianchi, Samurai Spy, Un Amour de Femme, Kiss the Bride; television shows The Camomile Lawn, Bombshell, This Life, Footballers’ Wives, and Lexx.

(2) An example is any DVD containing episodes of Freaks and Geeks, a title which does not appear in the UK or Australian databases.


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