News story

Reports of online videos depicting the abuse of animals

DCMS response to public enquiries.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 it is an offence to cause unnecessary cruelty to animals of the kind normally kept as domestic pets. Perpetrators could be prosecuted if identifiable, for example from the videos themselves, and if they are under jurisdiction. 

In relation to the availability generally of harmful and offensive online material, the Government recognises the importance of allowing people to protect themselves and their children from harmful material online.

It is important to remember that the General Law applies online as it does offline, so those who host or run websites are not above the law. Although the Government cannot comment on any individual example, it is possible that material containing extreme images of deliberate cruelty to animals might be deemed obscene under the Obscene Publications Act (OPA).

All published material is subject to the OPA, and this applies equally to material published over the Internet. The maximum penalty for offences under the OPA is five years imprisonment.

However, such material is likely to be hosted outside the UK, in countries which have a different approach to the publication of obscene material.

UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) take a responsible approach to what content they host, both of their own volition and in co-operation with law enforcement and Government agencies. Where the industry is advised by law enforcement or by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) that material they host contravenes legislation, they will readily remove it. More information, including details of the IWF’s hotline for reporting illegal content, can be found on their website:

In addition, ISPs also have contracts with their customers concerning what may be hosted on their servers. These are called good practice Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs). Most AUPs already contain a general clause which allows them to remove sites which contain offensive or objectionable material, even if it is not illegal. It is open to anyone concerned about the contents of a website to approach the ISP hosting the site and ask them to remove the material under their AUP.

Published 13 January 2011