Blocking Content in the UK. Censorship or Populace Protection?

A startling development is being reported by the BBC in the UK. It seems that the Internet Watch Foundation which looks like a quasi governmental organization, has taken offense with an album cover on Wikipedia and is “blocking” access to it. IWF claims it is an issue of child pornography, Wikipedia is calling it censorship.

This is a controversial issue and hardly one that is clear cut. First, let us look at the facts, such as they are.

The IWF manages a filter list that British ISPs utilize voluntarily (I think – it is hard to get a handle on it) that block access to “illegal” content. In this case, the IWF says that this album cover and associated text is “potentially illegal child sexual abuse image.”

The album is a 30 year old recording by the Scorpions called “Virgin Killer.” The album, released before the 1978 Protection of Children Act has already been modified once because the band was notified it might violate laws in some countries.

Wikipedia is upset because this is the first case where content on its site has been blocked in the UK and it feels it is being unfairly targeted because the album cover was still available as part of the band's box set and could be viewed on retail websites and When [Wikipedia] asked the Internet Watch Foundation why they blocked Wikipedia and not Amazon, apparently the decision was 'pragmatic', which we think means that Amazon had money and would sue them, whereas we're an educational charity.

I think Wikipedia has a case.

Let me state unequivocally that I am opposed to child pornography. There is no call for it. But we are in a sticky place with this cover. Is it art? Is it pornography? Is it legal? I am going to stay away from a discussion of the legal issues. That is way above my pay grade, and I expect that before this is done, the legal issues will have to be wrangled with. But I do need to address a couple of other issues, censorship of the 'Net being only one of them.

As the representative from Wikipedia pointed out, this is a case of targeted blocking. As of the report, Amazon was not being blocked. Dozens of other questionable album covers were not being targeted, and he cited: Nirvana’s Nevermind, Eric Clapton’s Blind Faith, and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy as examples of covers that the IWF has not blocked.

The IWF, in its defense, said that it only acts on tips from the public and has to follow up each one. When questioned by the interviewer about why Amazon was not being targeted or why these other covers were not included, Ms. Robertson said that the IWF would have to review each case and would take up the issue each in turn.

Which begs the question. Either the people working at the IWF are clearly biased in what they consider to be pornography or they really are targeting those that cannot afford to defend themselves. To me this is another case of Big Brother stomping around and trying to dictate what I see and do not see.

For the record, I do not see anything particularly offensive about the cover. I do not know that I see anything particularly redeeming about it either. From the standpoint of blatant sexuality, I can cite a dozen different albums that are more pornographic. What disturbs me most however is that the IWF is starting to look a lot like the Moral Majority or the PMRC, trying to tell me what I can and cannot look at. And what is truly sad, is that we are talking about a record cover that is thirty years old, and has sold thousands of copies to date.

OK, fire away. I have my Nomex® on.


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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So What?

Anonymous's picture

Good grief! The album was released in 1976 and in 2008 some group of well-meaning idiots in the UK block the image for three (3) days before reversing themselves.

Other than showing how silly some people can be, and yet sanity did win out in this instance. What's the point?

The Scorpions

lesserdevil's picture

Does anyone want to bet there are former members of The Scorpions praying to God they can sell a few albums because of this?

I bet they could use the money. "Rock Me Like A Hurricane" can't be paying too well these days.

Very poor taste.

Miss D's picture

I just had a look at the cover art and it is terrible. Why the hell would you have a 12 or 13 year old girl pose like that? It's beyong me. The image is disgusting, provocative and completely unnecessary. While I'm all for freedom of artistic expression, I think it's important that - regardless of consent - we protect children from being put in these situations. I do not think nude children are a necessary form of art. Some things should remain 'tabboo' but hey, let's see how far these freedom of speech radicals take it and how many children need to be hurt to prove a point.

Even the band have expressed their regret regarding the cover art so I don't see how anyone else can 'appreciate' it. It's effing awful!

Re:Very poor taste

Kennon's picture

"let's see how far these freedom of speech radicals take it"

Sorry...I just got a kick out of that when I read it. You don't happen to be like 75 years old wearing an old fashioned lace-up dress and horn-rimmed spectacles are you? Can I get a "where's the beef"? :-)

Seriously though, is the photo in poor taste? Yes I completely agree that it is, and it was most likely done for pure shock value. Is it worthy of nearly nationwide censorship by some quasi-governmental agency? I think not. There is more child nudity in a room full of Greek statues, paintings from the Renaissance, or most issues of National Geographic.

In The Eyes Of The Beholder

El Perro Loco's picture

Perversion in nudity is entirely in the eyes of the beholder. If all one can have when seeing a nude body is "dirty" thoughts (whatever that means), it only indicates that they have a dirty mind, not that the subject is dirty.

There is plenty to be appreciated in artistic nudity. Its contemplation may inspire you to think about the functionality of the body parts, or the proportion between them. It can make you think of freedom and liberty. It can give you ideas about strength and weakness. It can make you think about how a child grows into an adult. It may make you think about the ephemeral nature of childhood and youth, and how you grow old (and senile).

It is up to your mind to find meaning. A small, closed mind will not find meaning, will not understand and will retreat, in fear. It will close itself and try to close others. It will hurt others more than the nudity of the subject ever would.

Grow up!

Sorry if I got personal.

El Perro Loco's picture

(I am replying to myself here just to connect this post to the one that it refers to.)

In my previous post, in reply to Miss D, my last sentence was "Grow up!". In hindsight, it sounds too personal and could be mischaracterized as an "ad hominem" attack. It is not - it was just a very human outburst of impatience and despair with the smallmindedness that I see around myself.

The rest of that post stands as-is.

How was this child hurt?

Anonymous's picture

According to The Register:
... the child - now an adult - whose image lies at the heart of this controversy, is reported to have no regrets at all in respect of the photo.

If it looks like pornography, it must be because

Bob Fahey's picture

If it looks like pornography it must be, because I look smart and I is. So there you have it, proof of porn.

I'm not going to agree that all forms of censorship are wrong. What I will agree on is that not all forms of self-expression are right. Express yourself all day long, as long as I have to option to 'tune' you off, and that no one else was harmed in your self-expression. So, does anyone have the right to transmit questionable material (well, we have so many definitions of porn, just look at afgans and them screwing little boys), yes they do, as long as I can personally turn it off and not see it.

Of course I've missed the boat and made it too simple, but hey, I don't have time for this crapola and want my pron when I want it, and no ISP filter should stop me.

very poor journalism

Anonymous's picture

This was a waste of space as it is just a rehash of another report with little understanding of the issues and background. A little research (even just reading the reports in "" would have revealed the story and made the rant unecessary.

"The IWF manages a filter list that British ISPs utilize voluntarily (I think -- it is hard to get a handle on it) that block access to "illegal" content."

The IWF is an industry self-regulator funded by the major UK ISPs. It acts on complaints (not "tips"). Its responsibility is to produce a list of web pages that could potentially lead to its members being prosecuted for publishing illegal content. It is somewhat analogous to the Advertising Standards Board and British Board of Film Classification -- advisory industry bodies intended to ward off the threat of direct government regulation.

"In this case, the IWF says that this album cover and associated text is "potentially illegal child sexual abuse image."

The only thing relevant here is "potentially illegal". Your intoduction of pornography is a straw man for you to rant about. Pornography as such is not illegal in the UK, but the publication and distribution of obscene or indecent images are.

"Is it legal? I am going to stay away from a discussion of the legal issues."

But this is the whole point of the story, as the IWF advises on the potential for prosecution. If you had checked with the IWF, and not repeated old news, then you would have known that it reconsidered its advice and now is of the opinion that the image is probably not illegal, so that Wikipedia page has been restored by the six ISPs that had blocked it.

The main arguements have been with the method of blocking used -- a 404 page with no explanation, and the law relating to images deemed to constitute "child abuse"

No, it is not about pornography

David Lane's picture

Actually, my point was is it fair to target one particular site and not another for essentially the same issue.

The IWF is the one that wrapped pornography around the issue.

IF the cover is illegal, then IWF should have filtered not just Wikipedia, but EVERY OTHER SITE that hosted the image. They did not.

It is yet another example of "self-regulating" organizations making decisions that do not pass the smell test, much less pass logic tests. If they had blocked ALL the sites, then perhaps it would have become a discussion of censorship over "pornography", but as I said, that is a slippery slope that is well beyond the scope of this site.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

The IWF has now backed down.

barryp's picture

Free speech must have limitations!

Confused's picture

First of all, I have not looked that this cover recently, I vaguely remember it...

I must reply that from a logical point of view, as suggested by a previous post, all forms of expression, including speech, must have limitations. "No one person's rights extend to the point of interfering with another's rights." This is the problem that has vexed our society since the first constitution promising freedom of speech took shape. When we say "certain unalienable rights" and the further define such rights such as we have done in the USA, with the "Bill of Rights" we inevitably face a contradiction. When does my right to free worship intrude on your rights, any of your rights? I am sure at various points it might... However, some rights are more intrusive than others. When, in the US, "Freedom of Religion" became "Freedom from Religion" we crossed another border. Schools should not "force" students to pray, as this takes infringes on their rights; however, when a child prays -silently- on their own prior to eating their lunch and we suspend said child for praying at school we have infringed his rights in the other direction.

Speech must be approached similarly. Frequently one persons right to free speech infringes on another's. We are also speaking here of artistic expressions rather than speech. Album covers are designed by "graphical artists" which suggest they are supposed to be an art form... This is simple marketing, we buy what interest us and the graphic appeal of the packaging has a lot to do with our final choices... Less so now, 30 years later, when I rarely know what the album art of my CDs looks like prior to iTunes downloading for me.

We have always, as a society, determined "public morality" as that which is generally considered acceptable to the local community. The US law actually defines morality in such a way that it allows local determination by the citizens of what is "moral". This is how it MUST be if a society is function. We see today that many people find "moral" things that would have gotten one arrested long ago, even back when my father was young. This morality MUST extend into all forms of expression as a public conscience to, again, allow society to function.

Our modern society faces 2 major issues which are both at odds with each other. #1 The internet, and before that TV and before that globally reaching newspapers and even telephones, have all contributed a a global society that function very different from localized societies on which our modern world was actually built. 100 years ago, 99% of all people were born, lived their whole lives and died within 25 miles of the same place. Today, I don't know anyone who has not spent "at least" a significant time away from their roots. This results in the local definitions of morality bleeding out beyond the local scope to which they were once confined. #2 Many cultures have radically different definitions of what "moral" is. Many cultures do not even have protection for expression. These 2 points have led to a breakdown in moral values on a global scale, even resulting in attacks on local determinations of morality as allowed under the law.

I do NOT believe that censorship in an arbitrary way is ever justified. If an item is profane then it is always profane until/unless at some future time the definition is changed due to changing public morality. However, allowing them to block individual instances of an expression while allowing the same expression to go unblocked elsewhere is itself immoral and is a leading reason our society is rapidly failing.

Another reason our society is rapidly failing is due to too many people who believe that their rights are boundless. Such as the comment that

"Every form of *speech* and *manifestation of thought* must be *completely free*"

Thus we have profanity laws, child porn laws and etc.

A side note, Japan is the world capital of porn yet their anti-porn laws are very strict. They simple export it all to other countries uncensored while it is all censored here. Imagine watch a sex scene with a big black dot over the "interesting" stuff. (for lack of a better word). Lately they have taken to using computers to "blur" the image of the "interesting" stuff making it un-recognizable.


Your freedom and mine

El Perro Loco's picture

I'll try to methodically disconstruct or counter-argue your points.

And I'll define speech to include writing, painting, making movies, etc.

First, the title of your post: "Free speech must have limitations!"
Obviously, we defend opposite ideas here. Speech must have *no* limitations, I say - otherwise, why should mine or your opinion dictate what the limitations should be? Why am I better than you, or the other way round? You may know or perceive things I don't, or vice-versa, and the only way to discover that is for both of us to be totally free to speak to each other.

"No one person's rights extend to the point of interfering with another's rights." From a logical point of view, then, one's right not to be "offended" should not interfere with another one's right to speak their mind.
(On a side note: a few people often act squeamish ("Oh, you offended my with you horrible words!") just to attain some hidden purpose. One should be aware that they be heard but not taken seriously.) :-)

When you mention the "Constitution" and say "as we have done in the USA" you make it obvious that you are bound by the American way of thinking - American culture, if you will. You also mention community standards as the judge for what should be "moral" and allowed or, ultimately, censored. Well, I can't say it better than Mark Twain: "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them." What use are ideas if they can't challenge the establishment? What use are ideas if they can't be expressed? What use are ideas if they must conform to "community standards"? That's the ultimate oppression of the individual by society - which exists in the America as much as it exists in other pseudo-democracies around the world!
You still reinforce my point when you conclude one of your paragraphs with "These 2 points have led to a breakdown in moral values on a global scale, even resulting in attacks on local determinations of morality as allowed under the law". You imply that the exchange of ideas contaminates the "pure morals" of whoever and leads to degradation! Can you see how backward-thinking this is?

Fact is, people and ideas are part of one's environment as much as nature itself. A person cannot control all of its environment. Then, in a fairly known psychological mechanism of defense by compensation, to counteract one's feelings of frustration and impotence, one tries to control what it can: other people, frequently. Censorship arises from this weakness before reality.
Tucking one's head under the pillow won't make the bogeyman go away.

So, again, let's all speak up. Communicate. Explain. Outrage and be outraged. From discussion, not fear, the light will come.


El Perro Loco's picture


When you wrote "populous" did you mean "populace"?


David Lane's picture

Thanks for that. My editor has the day off ;-)

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

You're welcome!

El Perro Loco's picture

English orthography is a bitch... Sometimes I think that using ideograms would be easier! :-)

*NO* to censorship!

El Perro Loco's picture

For the record:

*Every* form of censorship is *wrong*.

Let me repeat this, shouting where necessary:

*EVERY* form of censorship is *WRONG*.

And I mean it. Every form of *speech* and *manifestation of thought* must be *completely free*. No matter how controversial, disgusting, distasteful, disagreeable, dangerous or otherwise contrary to any other idea, ideology, doctrine, thought, conviction, etc.

Only very few *harmful* *actions* toward/against *persons* should be subject to any form of restraint.

(If someone feels like opposing this in a logical manner, please note that the *action* of *manifesting thought* by means of *speech* should not be restrained.)


Dave Phillips's picture

"...we are in a sticky place with this cover. Is it art? Is it pornography? Is it legal?"

Is it even necessary ?

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.


El Perro Loco's picture

Are controversial, artistic *books* necessary?

Are newspapers, with their editorials, necessary?

Are magazines necessary?

Are musical recordings necessary?

Are theather plays necessary?

The Cover?

David Lane's picture

Well, there is no accounting for taste of course.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

There is a world of

1llus1on's picture

There is a world of difference between an organization moderating it's own content and a 3rd party enforcing a ban. It's the right of any person, company, club, group, website, corporation, etc. to have control over the information they put forth. I have every right to post any information that I want and change it any time I want on my website because it is my canvas, my little corner of the world, I'm free to make it how I see fit. You, however, do not have the right to forcefully come into my website and change it without my consent. If I gave your permission to post something on my site, it's my right (since it is my site) to later decide I don't want it there or I would like to modify something about it (unless we have a contract that says otherwise of course), if you don't like that, you have every right to open your own site and put whatever you want there. See the difference?


David Lane's picture

So, Wikipedia moderating its authors and articles is the same as ISPs blocking content? Not quite sure I am on that train, sorry.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack