Obligations for content providers

Different legal requirements apply depending on where you want to publish any content.

Games or content published on physical media

In Germany, since April 1, 2003, the German Youth Protection Act (JuSchG) has legally regulated the granting of age ratings for games published on a data carrier (JuSchG, Arts. 12, 14). Consequently, you must label your product if you wish to sell it on the German market and make it publicly available to minors. In this case, you must apply for a USK rating. German traders must observe the age classification at the time of sale. Infringements may mean fines of up to 50.000 Euros.

The Federal States are responsible for implementing the Youth Protection Act (JuSchG) as this is legislation at the Federal level and thus implements the age classification in practice. The process is carried out by the Supreme Youth Authorities of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), whose lead management has been agreed upon by all 16 Federal States. NRW has appointed Permanent Representatives to the USK, from which one at a time is present at every examination decision, adopting the Classification Committee’s recommendation for approval or appeal against it. An applicant, too, can object to an examination result (see USK General Policy Statement, Arts. 13, 14, 15).

Examination of the material results in the following age classifications:

  • “USK ab 0 freigegeben”– Approved without age restriction.
  • “USK ab 6 freigegeben” – Approved for children aged 6 and above.
  • “USK ab 12 freigegeben” – Approved for children aged 12 and above.
  • “USK ab 16 freigegeben”– Approved for children aged 16 and above.
  • “USK ab 18 – Not approved for young persons under 18.
  • And “Rating refused.”

After completing the examination, a USK notification will inform you about the outcome. The examination result “Rating refused” – following Art. 14 JuSchG – tells you about evidence that the product may not be able to be distributed legally securely in Germany. You can publish a game of this type for adults without a rating; this may, however, mean that the title is endangered of being placed on the prohibited list (“Index”) or seized (“beschlagnahmt”).

An examination procedure may be interrupted due to a result of a decision by the Classification Committee (case of doubt) to request an expert report by the Federal Agency for Child and Youth Protection in the Media (Bundeszentrale für Kinder- und Jugendmedienschutz – BzKJ). The USK will resume the procedure as soon as the expert report by the BzKJ has been submitted (see USK General Policy Statement, Art. 10, Section 10).

Once all time frames for appeals have expired, an administrative act is issued. Once issued, an age rating must be displayed when publishing the cover artwork and on the data carrier by the statutory requirements (see labeling regulations of the JuSchG).

New rules for the examination process for digital games

With the last update of the German Youth Protection Act (JuSchG) in May 2021, new rules for the age rating procedure under Section 14 (6) JuSchG will apply from January 01, 2023. These essentially include the following:

  • Additional information (descriptors) will be added to USK age ratings: Alongside the age rating, additional descriptors on the main reasons for the age rating will also be issued by the USK review panels in the future. For this purpose, the USK will make specially generated graphic files (age rating + descriptors) available for download after each examination.
  • Interactive elements and online features are taken into account in the examination procedure: When assessing the age rating, online features and interactive elements are also considered if they are a permanent component of the game. This is primarily taken into account using additional descriptors. If a significant usage risk is identified, this may lead to a higher age rating.
  • Consideration of technical protection concepts: In the future, precautionary measures (e.g., parental control systems) taken by the publisher/developer will also be taken into account during the examination process.

In this regard, new obligations apply to examination results based on the submission form as of January 01, 2023. In particular, an additional graphic (age rating + descriptors) must be displayed on the back of the game packaging. After the examination, the USK makes the specially generated graphic files available for download.

More information on the age rating process and the USK’s age rating requirements, including the new regulations that will take effect on January 1, 2023, can be found here.

Games submitted before the new regulations under the JuSchG came into effect and have received an age rating do not have to display any additional information and retain their validity.

Regulations for already-rated and online published content

When content (games, trailers, etc.) already carrying a USK or FSK age rating is sold via a website (mail order), can be played, or is available for download, the provider must indicate the presence of the age rating (cf. Section 12 JuSchG or Section 12 JMStV). The notice can be given in the text or by displaying the respective age rating label.

Here you can download the previously valid USK labels, which can still be used for the front-of-game packaging. For the submission form proper from January 1, 2023, the USK will provide the applicant with specially generated graphic files (age level + descriptors) for download. These are only mandatory on the back of the game packaging. Online it is sufficient if these are visibly placed and close to the age rating at the “point of sale” (e.g., product page).

For storefronts that are part of the IARC-System, the age rating label and descriptors appear via the IARC-System. Storefronts that qualify as game platforms as defined in Section 14a (1) sentence 2 JuSchG are required to ensure that age rating and descriptors are displayed visibly by Section 14a (1) sentences 2 and 3 JuSchG.

More information on the USK’s age rating requirements can be found here.

Games or content offered online

Following the Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors in the Media (JMStV), providers of online content are responsible for ensuring that “material which is likely to harm the development of children or young people (…)” is not generally perceived by these age groups. Whoever infringes this regulation “may have a fine of up to 500,000 Euros” imposed. This applies not only to game content, such as pure online games, which can be played directly over the internet or downloadable games, but also to films, texts, or images.

This duty is expressed in the JMStV in the following terms:

In material for children, only contents may be made available which do not have adverse effects on development for children up to the rating “USK 12 and above”; in other words, are rated “Approved without restrictions” or “USK 6 and above” (cf. Art. 5, Sect. 5 of the JMStV). If products are not directly aimed at children and are not rated with “USK 16 and above” or “not under 18”, they may be offered without distribution restriction.

To comply with the legal obligations on prejudicial content “USK 16 and above” and “not under 18” years of age, providers have the following alternative possibilities available (cf.: Art. 5 Sect. 1, 3 and 4 as well as Art. 11 Sect. 1 of the JMStV):

  • Programming the website for a recognized Youth Protection Program.
  • Using scheduling:
    Contents “16 and above” are only accessible between 10 pm and 6 am.
    Contents “not under 18” are only accessible between 11 pm and 6 am.
  • Using technical distribution restrictions, e.g., using a positive-rated age verification system

Content harmful to young persons, e.g., pornography, or media on the index list, included by the Federal Agency for Child and Youth Protection in the Media (BzKJ) in Lists A and C, may only be disseminated for adults in closed user groups (cf. Art. 4, Sect. 2 of the JMStV). Content that constitutes a criminal offense and is extremely harmful to young persons, as described in Art. 4, Sect.1 of the JMStV, is generally not permitted to be disseminated.

If the curated content is a film or games platform within the meaning of Section 14a (1) JuSchG, film or games programs can only be made available if they have been provided with an appropriate, clearly perceptible label by the age categories defined in Section 14 (2) (labeling obligation). The age ratings must be legally compliant with the alternatives specified in Section 14a (1). Age ratings issued as part of a USK examination procedure fulfill these requirements.

Apart from these essential core regulations, further regulations apply, such as youth protection in advertising (Art. 6 of the JMStV).

USK.online: Get support for your online content

In its USK.online division, the USK supports its member companies in fulfilling their responsibility for the online protection of minors. Since 2011, the USK has been recognized as a self-regulatory body under the JMStV. An overview of the services offered by the USK can be found in the USK service area.