back to article UK obscenity law: Where to now?

As the dust settles on the Girls (Scream) Aloud trial, what are the implications for the future of obscenity law in the UK? In the short term, the answer has to be "not much". Had the trial produced a guilty verdict, then much would have changed. It would have been the first successful prosecution of written material under the …

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Reporting Centre, not Censor Centre

A more useful role for the IWF would be to act as a clearing house for complaints about dodgy sites. If they'd set themselves up to ask no questions about how someone arrived at a particular link (unless volunteered by the reporter), they could pass stuff on to the police for prosecution without the outrage that ensues whenever they get something badly wrong. Of course, many of us probably aren't even aware of being quietly censored - a good proportion would probably never even try to access a censored link and most of the rest would probably get there by accident. chances are the bad guys easily bypass the censorship anyway, a bit like making gun owernship illegal in the mistaken belief that it would stop criminals from possessing guns.

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There is also the point...

... that had someone decided to hire a group of look-alike models and have them pose for photographs to "illustrate" the story, even though the story was not illegal and no illegal acts were committed in the making of the photos, if someone decided the images were "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene nature", "for the purposes of sexual arousal" and showed "an act which threatens a person’s life" then the CPS could have successfully prosecuted under the Dangerous Pictures provisions of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act!

What a ludicrous situation...

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Why Girls Aloud?

Surely there are much more deserving bands to dismember. I'd personally enjoy reading about the execution of say, The Kaiser Chiefs, for disservices to music. Girls Aloud I quite like.

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Paris Hilton

Cool

I can now say this, I WISH GIRLS ALOUD WOULD JUST DIEt.

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Grenade

OK...

Lemme see if I've got this straight. If the article is hard to find, and the prosecution (which fails because the article is hard to find) increases interest in it, such that it becomes easy to find, does that not mean the prosecution would now be able to proceed?

It's a case of the act of prosecuting someone making prosecution possible. So the poor chap can't be prosecuted successfully until....he's.....been prosecuted.

Major headfuck!!!

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The IWF Still Needs To Justify

Why it, as a quango, is trying to act as a law enforcement agency when it does not have that status. The IWF continues to lack transparency and accountability and is therefore unfit for purpose. Thinking you are doing the right thing cannot prevent you from the consequences of fouling up. The issues raised by the Scorpions farce remain to be addressed.

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Anonymous Coward

Words are Pervert food

Stories are boring, but then I can't relate to the murderers and Girls Aloud don't seem interesting or real to me. However if I was the sort of person who would murder Girls Aloud singers, then that story might come alive in my imagination. Since ultimately the story is really 90% my imagination and 10% the words on the page.

Stories are pervert food, how real a story is, is determined by how real your perverted imagination makes it. This why some directors can turn a story into a great script and others can't. The same story works in their heads or it doesn't.

So the unnamed IWF person and Nicola Reasbeck apparently see the story as real in their heads.

And I wonder if that fact shouldn't be recorded on *their* records, given the courts have said they're wrong? Surely if it should flag on anyone's record it should be theirs? They're the ones whose imagination got carried away. They're the one's who brought the story to life in their heads.....

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@Graham Marsden

"that had someone decided to hire a group of look-alike models and have them pose for photographs to "illustrate" the story..."

Time to get the Lego out?

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Joke

I'm with Dave

Coldplay and Radiohead earn my particular ire, but there are plenty of others.

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So perfectly legal but....

So its perfectly legal to write fantasy in the UK - you will just be arrested, lose your job, have your DNA taken and end up on some semi-official list of people 'police have an interest in' next time there is a rape/assault/abduction.

Thank go for the shield of British justice and the sword of whoever.

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Not read the 'story' but

Don't James patterson amd Jeffery Deaver write stories of this ilk - but not about 'band' members?

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Megaphone

Intertaliband

Ban everything before it's too late!

God* is not mocked !!

* Insert mythical deity of choice here.

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isnt that....@Jim Coleman

"such that it becomes easy to find, does that not mean the prosecution would now be able to proceed?"

Isn't that perverting the course of justice? Sounds like the are manipulating one of the major aspects of the case in a bid to try and make it easier for them to win said case, whether it was accidental or not.

To the tower with them!

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Dead Vulture

To be fair to the IWF...

...I doubt very much they would have passed this on to Police had the story not concerned the rape and murder of real, well known individuals. As far as I know they didn't block the asstr site, and I don't think anyone can criticise them for this - how are they to make the decision as to whether the writer of the story wasn't an actual threat? I imagine this, rather than issues of obscenity, was the reason they alerted Police.

I don't agree with the OPA case against it - it has been another grossly stupid waste of money - but I do think that if you write stories about raping and murdering real people online it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise when the Police decide to ask you about your intentions.

Still, pretty weird that the original report came from the Daily Star of all places

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@Why Girls Aloud

Why indeed? I remember a great many hate stories on BBSes back in the day detailing the brutal murder of Chesney Hawkes.

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The Thought Police

Are getting ever closer.

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Happy

@Chika

ITYM "Playmobil" ;-)

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@ To be fair to the IWF...

What, you mean it's OK because they could have screwed up even more? They basically (together with the MET) destroyed this guy's life for no reason, and you seem to think it's OK because some website wasn't blocked for a few hours? In the world you're living in, is it OK to kill your neighbour if you don't also burn his car?

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Terminator

Re: To be fair to the IWF...

There is a pretty comprehensive disclaimer at the top of the story, I really don't see how it would constitute a threat when ordinary satire doesn't even require a disclaimer.

The original article states that the charges were 'publishing obscene material', not anything to do with threatening anyone. I suppose ASSTR should be glad (for now) that it is not hosted in the UK, that story is no where near the most obscene on the site and the lawyer the Daily Mail quoted about the case naively considered the story to be the worst fantasy anyone has come up with. Obviously they didn't bother to even do any research on the same damn site the story was hosted on.

As you say though, the reason this story was made an issue was the use of names of famous people and possibly further to that, the fact that the author is English. Hell help us if the Daily Star start reading music lyrics or look at 4chan. They can pry freedom of expression from my cold dead <insert morbid description deserving of obscenity lawsuit here> hands.

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Anonymous Coward

A respite...?

So.... the Thought Police have been knocked back - for a month or two anyway, until those who think that the very way we think needs to be regulated think of another tactic...

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@ElReg!comments!Pierre

Whoa, calm down there Pierre. Way to entirely misread what I've posted and take what you want out of it. All I said was that trying to pin this mess on the IWF is stupid. What do you expect them to do? Someone forwards them a story detailing the rape and murder of a well known group of celebrities, they report it to Police. Repeating what I said (clearly you were so incensed by someone coming on here in defence of the IWF you didn't finish) - the OPA case was a stupid, ill informed mistake but it's the CPS who are ultimately to blame for that.

I really feel for the guy, and I think it's tragic that this has cost him so much, but seriously people - are you really that surprised that writing stories about murdering REAL people *might* possibly attract a bit of unwanted attention? If he had written about fictional characters this would never have happened

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@Mycho

"I remember a great many hate stories on BBSes back in the day detailing the brutal murder of Chesney Hawkes."

Oh stop it. Your making me quite nostalgic.

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First conviction?

"It would have been the first successful prosecution of written material under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA) in over 30 years"

What was the first?

Anyway, of all the things - anyone ever read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis? Turned my stomach that one (not least for the in-depth history of Genesis...)

Presumably it's only obscene if it's about someone non-fictional. The world's gone mad...

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Big Brother

Oh man, what is happening in the UK?? Did all of this fascist shit start after the tube bombings? From the widespread camera surveillance to DNA databases, wiretapping, internet monitoring and censorship, arbitrary blocked entry of individuals, and everything else, it seems like Britain is in a race to replicate an Orwellian society!

Where are the people protesting all of this crap? Whats the majority popular opinion in Britain? Is this just a labour party thing? Are the conservatives against all this crap? Are they going to win the next election and roll back the march to fascism?

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Alert

"Forbidden Fruit" problem.

It's always a thorny issue with stuff you want to keep away from people. The mere mention of the forbidden fruit will inevitably draw people to it. Any attempt to squelch it could bring attention to the squelching (which itself can't be squelched if the firm attempting it is publicly accountable--as is most government agencies). And unlike in 1984 (the fiction, that is), enough people have decent enough memories to recall such incidents even as time passes. So governments are in a quandry. How does one reduce the commissions of an act that, by its very mention, draws more people to do it?

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Dead Vulture

@Vivaelamor

I realise the charge was under the OPA, I was just trying to explain why I think the IWF forwarded it on. The weirdest thing about this was why the CPS thought they had a shot at this, and why the Police went along with it. There was an article on here only a few days ago about how the Police were using the extreme pr0n law to tackle chinese dvd sellers who might be found with a bestiality dvd in their bag - I have a relative who used to work for the met's vice unit, and he told me once that in the 90s when they were raiding shops in Soho the only stuff they could really do anything about was the really extreme end of the spectrum (ie children and animals). For the Police to stop prosecuting bestiality under the OPA suggests convictions are hard to come by, which suggests that there is an acceptance that juries are unlikely to see the vast majority of obscenity as falling under the (albeit very vague) legal definition. So it's extremely difficult to see the logic of the idiot from the CPS who made the decision - surely it was highly likely that even if they did present 'evidence', the chances of a jury agreeing with them was tiny.

Hostel and Hostel 2 anyone? Films whose entire purpose is to present violence, torture and murder in an completely gratuitous way, with very little regard for plot. Why didn't the suddenly chaste smut monkeys at the Daily Star feel the need to report this to the Police?

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Grenade

OPA

Could it not be construed that by drawing attention to the work of fiction cited the Daily Star, IWF, CPS etc. are acting in the role of a publisher and therefore also liable for prosecution under the OPA? Although a civil prosecution of the CPS could be rather difficult.

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Re: To be fair to the IWF...

"I don't think anyone can criticise them for this"

I can. The justification put forward for the IWF is that it exists to block child porn. We don't need a private organisation to help grass up any other kind of sites, especially for a law as dubious as this one.

"but I do think that if you write stories about raping and murdering real people online it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise when the Police decide to ask you about your intentions."

But the IWF aren't the police.

And the problem is that the police simply didn't just ask questions - no one would have a problem if they simply investigated, and then realised it was clearly just a work of fiction. The problem is they went ahead with the prosecution anyway, using a law that has nothing to do with the issue of threats or harrassment.

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Successful Prosecutions

I have been writing, for a while, that the last successful prosecution for (purely) written material under the OPA was the Little Red Schoolbook in the early '70's.

It is, of course, always hard to prove a negative.... but have had several conversations with experts and lawyers in this field and to date, all have drawn a blank.

So...there are a fair few prosecutions of pictorial material each year - many of which are successful.

Anyone care to give me any more prosecutions of written material. (I exclude Lord Horror, which was not prosecuted - and the material was released on appeal).

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@John Ozimek

Oz Schoolkids issue - Rupert bear parody?

My worry is that the powers that be think it is wrong but has proven not to be illegal therefore a new law criminalising it is needed...cue the "writing about killing people is the same as doing it" law.

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