Depending on where you want to publish which content, different legal requirements apply.
Games or content published on physical media.
In Germany since 01.04.2003 the Children and Young Persons Protection Act (JuSchG) has regulated in legally binding manner the granting of German age ratings for games which are published on data carrier (JuSchG , Arts. 12, 14). Consequently you have an obligation to 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 are obliged to observe the age classification at the time of sale. Infringements may mean fines of up to 50.000 Euro.
Examination of the material results in the following age classifications: “USK – Approved for children 0 and above” (“Approved without age restriction”), “USK – Approved for children aged 6 and above”, “USK – Approved for children aged 12 and above”, “USK – Approved for children aged 16 and above”, “USK – Not approved for young persons aged under 18”, and “Rating refused”. You will be informed about the outcome by a USK notification. The examination result: “Rating refused in accordance with Art. 14 JuSchG” informs you about evidence that the product may not be able to be distributed in a legally secure manner in Germany. You can also publish a game of this type for adults without a rating; this may however mean that the title is endangered to be placed on the prohibited list (“Index”) or seized (“beschlagnahmt”).
An examination procedure may be interrupted as a result of a decision by the Classification Committee (case of doubt) to request an expert report by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM). The USK will resume the procedure as soon as the expert report by the BPjM has been submitted (see USK General Policy Statement, Art. 10, Section 10).
The Federal States are the bodies responsible for the implementation of the Children and Young Persons Protection Act as this is legislation at Federal level and thus implement 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 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, adopt 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).
Once all time frames for appeals have expired, an administrative act is issued. An age rating once issued must be displayed when publishing the cover artwork as well as on the data carrier, in accordance with the statutory requirements (see labelling regulations of the Children and Young Persons Protection Act – JuSchG).
Referring to USK and FSK ratings
If contents (games, trailers, etc.) which already obtained a USK or FSK age rating are sold via a website (mail order), are directly playable or available for download, the provider must clearly indicate the existing rating (cf. Art. 12 Children and Young Persons Protection Act or Youth Media Protection State Agreement). This indication may be in the form of text or by the illustration of the respective rating label. Here you can find the USK age rating symbols for download.
Games or contents that are offered online
In accordance with the Youth Media Protection State Agreement (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” imposed. This applies not only to games 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 Youth Media Protection State Agreement in the following terms:
In material for children, only contents may be made available which do not have negative effects on development for children up to the rating “12 and above” , in other words are rated with “all ages” or “6 and above” (cf. Art. 5, Sect. 5 of the Youth Media Protection State Agreement). If products are not directly aimed at children and are not rated with “16 and above” or “not under 18”, they may be offered without distribution restriction. In either case some additional regulations (eg. Youth Protection representative or Youth Protection standards for advertising) can apply.
In order to comply with the legal obligations on prejudicial content “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 Youth Media Protection State Agreement):
- Programming the website for a recognised Youth Protection Program.
- Using scheduling
Contents “16 and above” only accessible between 22.00 and 6.00
Contents “not under 18” only accessible between 23.00 and 6.00
- Using technical distribution restriction, e.g.: using a positive rated age verification system
Content harmful to young persons, e.g.: pornography, or media on index list, included by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons (BPjM) in Lists A and C, may only be disseminated for adults in closed user groups (cf. Art. 4, Sect. 2 of the Youth Media Protection State Agreement). Content which constitutes a criminal offence and is extremely harmful to young persons as described in Art. 4, Sect.1 of the Youth Media Protection State Agreement is generally not permitted to be disseminated.
Apart from these essential, core regulations, further regulations apply, such as youth protection in advertising (Art. 6 of the Youth Media Protection State Agreement).