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What we classify

We can classify a wide range of things. Jump to the section that interests you:

Film classification

Most of what we classify comes under the definition of a 'film'. In the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, a film is defined as any 'material record of visual moving images that is capable of being used for the subsequent display of those images'. The term 'film' is broad, and includes:

Cinema films

Most of the cinema films we classify are feature length movies, but we can classify anything shown on a cinema screen. When the Classification Office opened in 1994, the vast majority of movies screened in cinemas were in the format of 35mm celluloid film reels. Nowadays we mostly classify cinema films on DCP ('Digital Cinema Package') format: DCP means a collection of digital files used to store and convey a film using a digital projector.

DVDs, Blu-rays and other home video formats

The majority of 'films' we classify are submitted on DVD or Blu-ray disc. This includes DVD copies of movies which are intended to be screened in a cinema, or online. It also includes TV series, which are often sold as a box set after they have screened on television.

Online movies and TV shows

We classify movies and TV shows that are being made available to the New Zealand public via streaming or download from a website. Viewing films online is becoming increasingly popular and the classification of online films is now an important part of our work.

Console and computer games

All types of video games come under the definition of 'film'. Find out more 

Electronic moving image files

This means any files of moving images, like video clips or gifs - including video recordings from smartphones or other personal devices. Find out more

Films which are supplied to the public for sale, hire or loan (with a few exceptions) must carry labels showing their New Zealand rating/classification and descriptive note. The classification must also be shown in advertising for films. The requirement for labelling also applies to people selling second-hand DVDs, eg, on TradeMe.


While pretty much all films that are released in New Zealand have New Zealand classifications (there are a few exceptions), not all of these films have been seen by the Classification Office. Films which have received a G, PG or an M classification in Australia will automatically be assigned the same rating in New Zealand. This process is called 'cross-rating' and is done by the Film and Video Labelling Body (based in Auckland).

If the film has not been classified in Australia, but has been given an unrestricted classification in the UK (a U, PG or 12) then the Labelling Body will base the New Zealand classification on that. The Classification Act only recognises the Australian and British classification systems - it doesn't take into account the classifications given in any other countries. It's important to note that cross-rating only applies to unrestricted films.

Spool of film


a consumer advice statement given for films and DVDs by the Film and Video Labelling Body: G, PG, or M. Ratings can be overturned by classification decisions from the Office of Film and Literature Classification.
A legal statement about who can have access to a publication. A classification can make a publication unrestricted (G, PG, M), restricted (RP or R), or objectionable (banned).
Descriptive note
The extra wording on a classification label which warns people of content in the film eg, 'M: contains sexual references and offensive language'.
35mm film
A type of film reel used in movie theatres, 35mm is not used often in today's cinemas.
'Digital Cinema Package' is a film format used in modern cinemas: DCP is a collection of digital files used to store and display a film using a digital projector.
The definition of 'publication' includes a number of things, such as film, DVDs, books, video games, sound recordings and computer files.
Music, spoken words, sounds effects in a film.
A segment of film that must be removed before the film can be made available to the public. Cuts are also referred to as 'excisions'.

Case studies about films

Books and magazines

Not all books and magazines have to be classified

Unlike films, books and magazines are not required to be classified before they are supplied to the public. However, every year a number of books and magazines are classified. Some are submitted for classification by distributors wanting to make sure they are able to legally market the material. Others are submitted as a result of action by NZ Customs, Police or the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs, or because of a court case. A small number are submitted by members of the public.

Books and magazines are classified using the same criteria we use to classify films, games and other publications.

If a book or magazine is classified as restricted (eg R13 or R16) it is illegal to supply to someone underage, and stores or libraries must also comply with any display conditions (for example that a book must be displayed only in a sealed/opaque bag, or be displayed in 'restricted areas', or given out only on request).

If a book or magazine is classified as Objectionable (banned) this means it is illegal for anyone to supply, import, or even to possess a copy.

Some books and magazines must display official classification labels

A book or magazine that has been classified as age-restricted (since 2005) must display an official classification label. These are the same labels used for films and games.

Unclassified books or magazines can still be restricted

The law says that if someone knows a book or magazine is likely to be age-restricted then they cannot supply it to someone under age. This means that some things, like 'adult' magazines, are legally age-restricted even though they haven’t been officially classified. Instead of getting magazines classified, distributors usually label the magazines R18 and sell them in sealed packaging. In doing this they are restricting access to their publications by anticipating the age and display restrictions that would be placed upon them by the Classification Office.

Likewise, a person can be prosecuted for possessing or supplying a book or magazine that contains illegal material, even if the book or magazine had not yet been classified as Objectionable (banned).

Classifications since 1964 are still in force

We don’t have much information about the censorship of books prior to the establishment of the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1964 (under the Indecent Publications Act 1963). Prior to 1964 book censorship was not the primary function of any organisation – instead it was the responsibility of New Zealand Customs operating under the Indecent Publications Act of 1910. When the 1963 Act came into force, there were no transitional provisions which explained what happened to all censorship decisions made prior to that Act. As a result, it appears that decisions classifying, censoring or banning books prior to 1964 are no longer in force. However, the decisions made under the 1963 legislation do remain in force today.

Shelves of books

Case studies about books

The classification criteria

We use the same criteria for books, games, films and other publications. Learn more about the Classification Act criteria


Music recordings, printed music lyrics and music videos all fall under the definition of publication in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, and can be classified by the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Music recordings do not have to be classified and labelled before they are sold, but music can be submitted to the Office for classification.

Like any other publication, music can be restricted or banned because of its treatment of sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence. It can also be restricted because of highly offensive language.

Most of the labels you see on music CDs (such as 'content may offend' and 'parental guidance recommended') are put there by music retailers or distributors. Music recordings that have been classified by the Office (after 2005) will carry the same type of label as films.

You can see what music recordings have been classified by searching the NZ Register of Classification Decisions and selecting the medium 'CD sound recording'.

Music videos

Music videos that are sold, hired or loaned in New Zealand need to be classified and labelled just like other films. Most music videos online, for example on YouTube, do not need to be classified or labelled because they are being supplied for free.

Guitar and music


Offensive language
Language that is regarded to be highly offensive by the public in general. Publications can not be banned on the basis of offensive language, but they can be age restricted.

Case studies about music

Computer technology

Computer-based material comes under the definition of publication in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993:

(d) a thing (including, but not limited to, a disc, or an electronic or computer file) on which is recorded or stored information that, by the use of a computer or other electronic device, is capable of being reproduced or shown as 1 or more (or a combination of 1 or more) images, representations, signs, statements, or words.

Section 2, Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993

In practice, such things as print-outs of a webpage, images, moving images or files from a website, emails and chatlogs can be classified, as can this type of material stored on a cellphone.

Classification and the internet

People in New Zealand can be prosecuted for uploading objectionable material to overseas websites, and any internet-sourced publications are subject to New Zealand classification law when they are downloaded to a computer in New Zealand. The Department of Internal Affairs Censorship Compliance Unit and the Police both monitor various sites and chat rooms for illegal activity.

Films and games supplied online must be classified

Films and games supplied to New Zealanders via download over the Internet are subject to New Zealand's classification requirements. Before a film or restricted game is supplied to the public it must have a New Zealand rating or classification. The rating or classification and the descriptive note assigned to the film or game must be clearly displayed when supplied online.

The law also applies to chat rooms

Chat logs are subject to the law and chat rooms likely to be of concern are monitored by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and Police specialists. The Inspectors of Publications at DIA, in particular, ensure that internet use in New Zealand complies with the Act.

Clips from YouTube can be classified

The Classification Office has classified clips from YouTube as well as other material from websites. The majority of computer file submissions have been from NZ Customs, Police or the Censorship Compliance Unit of the Department of Internal Affairs or through court cases.

Some websites are blocked in New Zealand

In 2009, the Department of Internal Affairs began a new web filtering system to block websites that host child sexual abuse images. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can use this software to block access to these sites.

http:// address on a computer browser


Games fall under the definition of 'film' in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. This means that all games with restrictable content (eg, violence) must carry New Zealand labels showing their classification. Unrestricted level games are currently exempt from classification, but they have usually been rated elsewhere, such as in Australia or the US, and carry classification labels from those countries that can act as a guideline for parents.

There is debate as to whether unrestricted video games should be required to carry New Zealand classification labels. This was not a requirement in the Classification Act because when the law was drafted in the early 1990s video games were very basic, with simple and unrealistic graphics.

In other respects, games are treated like films, for example, restricted games cannot be supplied to anyone underage. This law applies to retailers supplying games over the internet, in stores, and to parents or caregivers supplying games in the home.

When a classification is assigned it applies to all identical copies of the publication. This means that if a game is examined and classified on PlayStation 3, the classification applies to the Xbox 360 version so long as the content is the same. If the content is substantially different then that version will need to be examined and classified too.