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You should constantly monitor your business’ website and social media accounts to ensure that the content you and your audience publishes does not breach any Australian laws. It is important to understand the definitions of illegal content and prohibited content. Understanding these terms can help you to avoid infringement and fines when any such content is made public and accessible on your website. This article will outline:

  • what illegal content and prohibited content mean; 
  • where you might find these types of content; and 
  • the practical steps you can take to avoid these types of content ending up on your website. 

What is Illegal Content? 

Illegal content is content which breaks Australian laws. It includes material such as:

  • child pornography or child abuse;
  • content that shows extreme sexual violence or materials that are overly violent;
  • materials that demonstrates, promotes or incites crimes or violent acts; and
  • content that promotes terrorism or encourages terrorist acts.

There are different laws in each state relating to illegal online content. You should look for information from your state regulator to find out your obligations when publishing content online. 

It is always inadvisable to search for illegal content online, even if you are doing so with the intention of reporting or removing it. If you discover illegal content by accident, you should report it to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). ACMA governs the laws surrounding illegal and prohibited content. If ACMA finds illegal and prohibited content on your website, they can remove it if your website is hosted in Australia.

What is Prohibited Content?

Prohibited content is not illegal. However, it may not be appropriate for everyone. 

Prohibited content is content that:

  • is ‘refused classification’ (RC); or
  • the Australian Classification board rates as only suitable for viewers who are over the age of 18.

For example, prohibited content might include:

  • materials which encourage violence, criminal behaviour or dangerous behaviour (e.g. creating weapons, taking or making drugs and carrying out fraudulent or terrorist acts);
  • highly graphic sexual acts that would be likely to offend a ‘reasonable adult’; or
  • footage that shows real or simulated violence or crimes.

Illegal Content and Prohibited Content Online

Illegal content and prohibited content can be found almost anywhere online, including on forums, blogs, social media, peer-to-peer file-sharing platforms and live visual and audio websites. You should never upload illegal content or add it to your business’ website. In some circumstances, you may choose to upload prohibited content to your site. However, you should be very careful if you do so. One of the major risks when uploading prohibited content is that it may reach children, for whom such content can be especially damaging.

Website Terms of Use 

As well as maintaining control over the content you add to your website and your social media channels, you also need to maintain control over the content that website visitors upload to your website and channels. As well as a privacy policy and sales terms and conditions (if you sell goods or services online), you will need website terms of use. Your website terms of use should: 

  • set out how visitors can use and interact with your website; and
  • contain a user content clause if users can upload content to the website or social media channels.

The user content clause should restrict the types of content that users can add. It should also reinforce that any content users add should not breach any laws. Your website terms of use can also state that you only allow users of a certain age to visit the site. This is particularly important if you have prohibited content on your website. 

Key Takeaways 

If you run an online business where either you or your users may feature illegal content or prohibited content, you should ensure that you comply with the law at all times. As well as possibly being illegal, these types of content can damage your reputation. If you need to check the legality of any of your online content or would like assistance with preparing your website terms of use, contact LegalVision’s online lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.


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