back to article Why the IWF was right to ban a Wikipedia page

There has been a storm of controversy over a decision by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to blacklist a page of Wikipedia. But the criticism of Britain's online watchdog is unfair and hypocritical. Last Thursday, the IWF received a complaint from a member of the public about an image that appeared on a Wikipedia entry for …


This topic is closed for new posts.


  1. Stef


    "It's also worth noting that the law covers only photographs and 'pseudo photographs' – so the IWF will not censor, as one contributor to a BBC blog fears, Michelangelo's David."

    Aren't you jumping to conclusions here?

    That depends on what they define as a pseudo photo, and given that Australia has just punished someone for possession of a Simpsons picture, don't expect common sense to always apply - this is the law after all.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    So the fact we can purchase it in shops 'is no defence' ?


    Surely if the image is illegal, then purchasing it or viewing it in any medium should be banned.

    If it's available in the shops and elsewhere online, then it must follow that the image is not illegal, in which case why has my ISP seen fit to censor it?

    I'd be grateful if anyone could link to the piece of legislation allowing the IWF to act as judge, jury and executioner of what I am allowed to view on the internet.

    I'm as much against child porn as the next man, naturally, but this image is not child porn. Kneejerk Daily-Mail-esque reactions will not help anyone, least of all genuine victims of abuse.

    Better go and burn my copies of Houses of the Holy and Blind Faith before the SWAT team kicks my door in then....

    Black helicopter, because 2008 has become 1984.

    PS: Struan = FAIL.

  3. David Hayes

    Stoopid IWF

    So they've managed to block anonymous editing to Wikipedia, and prevent you from viewing the Virgin Killers album cover on their website...

    So why can I see it on this article then:

    Thanks Wikipedia for being able to work around the stupid IWF rules!

  4. Arclight
    Paris Hilton

    The real issue

    I think what has most peoples backs up isn't so the much the particular image, which is TBH pretty dodgy, but the fact that someone is deciding what we're allowed to look at. If a religious fruitcake managed to get a job there would we all be banned from looking at any site with pro-evolution comments

  5. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Down


    ***"It (Wikipedia) has its own blacklist, a list of people from certain IP addresses who are forbidden from changing Wikipedia's pages. Wikimedia does this because it does not like what they write. So its criticism of the IWF is hypocritical."***

    Erm, no. Not hypocritical at all. This blacklist is about *preventing* censorship. Anyone can edit a Wikipedia article. Some people edit articles to actively *censor* content they dislike (as in the case of the Phorm Entry being edited by Phorm). If someone repeatedly *censors* an article then it is very reasonable that they should be blocked.

  6. Roger Ruffley

    Arrested for possesing a Scorpions album?

    IF the picture was obviously illegal, your points might carry more weight. The police advised only that it MIGHT be, and given the hardly secretive presence of the cover on the likes of Wikipedia and Amazon over a period of years with no prosecution having occurred, I hazard a guess that the courts are not likely to be quite so reactionary in their opinion. You say Amazon should be banning the image as well, I would ask if that also means you consider possession of the album should constitute a criminal offense that should put you on the register of sexual offenders?

    The problem is the the IWF seem to have overreacted here. The image was not child porn, there was nothing sexual about it, and it contained nothing that could be considered abusive. To declare it as child porn is to reveal the system as problematically broken. I had respect for the IWF before, but this leads me to question whether they are any more effective as a moral guardian than a pack of rabid Daily Mail readers would be.

    I have two concerns.

    1. The IWF lacks transparency. There is no way to find out what they are blocking, and it is worrying to know they can make arbitrary decisions about artwork that could mean linking to images of the Sistine Chapel would be an offense. If this story had not broken, would we have known how crazy their decisions could be?

    2. They lack accountability. Their web site makes it easy to complain about a web site, there is nothing on there to allow you to complain about the IWF or to challenge decisions.

    The IWF is a self-appointed body, and it is disturbing in the extreme that it has the power to ban web pages with no apparent checks and balances being in place.

    The IWF need to stick to what they should be doing, keeping illegal material blocked. They were completely wrong to cross the line into second guessing morality on what is clearly very far from being a clear cut case.

    As a note, I own a copy of 'Nevermind'. Should I go and burn the cover of that album before the Stazi^H^H^H^H^Hpolice come breaking down my door?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    What is the point?

    The IWF is also criticised for blocking the whole page, not just the image. The IWF says that its system cannot ban individual JPEG files, though. It says that its system is designed to be simple, because that is what the ISPs want.

    This is just stupid, because of this if you know the images url you can just look directly at the image which is the potentially illegal item, they are instead blocking the text which is perfectly legal to view. And indeed if you look at the Google cache of the page you will see the image clearly which would otherwise be blocked if they blocked the JPEG file. Are the IWF implying that their block is on a directory (in which case block the image directory) or only .htm files, sounds wrong to me.

  8. Ian McNee

    Censorship is not the point!

    Yes this image is a degrading, exploitative and possibly illegal image.

    No IMHO it should not appear on an album cover (indeed an alternative cover was produced at the time for the countries in which the original was banned).

    But what was the purpose and effect of the IWFs action on this matter?

    Firstly, if you take a look at the statement about this on the IWF's website, you will notice three lengthy paragraphs. The first two paragraphs explain what the IWF is and how it operates. Only in the third and final paragraph does it deal with the issue at hand. This is unusual for news statements, even for the IWF. This is just grandstanding by the IWF: "Look at us - we've blocked a page on Wikipedia!"

    Or am I just being cynical? Surely the purpose of the IWF in this respect is to:

    (i) prevent the exploitation and abuse of children in the production of these materials;

    (ii) prevent casual or accidental access to such materials on the basis that they have a damaging effect on the viewer;

    (iii) assist the prosecution of those producing and paying for such materials.

    Has the IWF's action in this case promoted any of these three aims? Clearly not (i) - the materials were produced a long time ago. As for (ii) this image has probably become one of the more viewed images of the week via the net in the UK as the block was only to a Wikipedia site and even that could easily be circumvented. And finally (iii): well theoretically anyone with this image now in their browser cache could possibly be prosecuted for possesion of child pornography but are these the people that we would expect the IWF and the police to go after?

    This leads me to the conclusion that the IWF were engaging in a bit of cynical self-publicity here. As a predictable and direct result of their actions no children have been protected, more people have viewed an image that could be judged to be illegal and no-one abusing or exploiting children will be prosecuted.

    The ISPs have followed like poodles because "child porn is bad" (and yes it is) without stopping to think what was going on here or taking real responsibility for the service that they provide. And, again predictably, the Wikipedia/net neutrality/anti-censorship fundamentalists have thrown their toys out of the pram and had a hissy fit providing all the furore the the IWF wanted.

    Sad, sad, sad.

    When the IWF starts, for example, nabbing the criminals that traffick, enslave and exploit women (and it goes on in most of the major towns and cities in Britain) I will have some more respect for what they do.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it art?

    While I have never looked at this album cover, I wonder how sexually explicit it really is. If it merely has a picture of a naked child how does this differ from half the content of the National Gallery with it's cherubs.

    Presumably Wikipedia is not carrying the picture to be salacious, it is carrying the picture as an accurate historic record.

    Q. What was the cover of this album?

    A. It was this picture

    Not "here's some grubby photo to practice your left handed to surfing too."

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missed a couple of points...

    On Radio 4 news yesterday morning they had someone from the IWF and someone from Wikipedia being interviewed, the IWF person made the point that the image was examined in conjunction with the police before it was considered to be illigal also that the reason that the image on Amazon has not been banned is because noone has complained about it.

  11. Leigh

    So China had it right all the time?

    So it's perfectly OK to censor the internet "for the good of the people" if you disagree with the content? What difference is there between this, and the Great Firewall of China, except scale?

    "Web hosts must not wait for an image to be declared unlawful by a court when they receive a complaint, albeit only a court can declare an image unlawful." that may be true except the webhosts are not the ones who have removed the image, the ISPs have.

    It is not the job of the ISP to determine what is appropriate and what is not. It is not their job to determine what is legal and what is not. That is up to the courts. If there is a problem with the content of Wikipedia, then that has to be resolved by Wikipedia, even if that means taking them to court.

  12. J-Man
    Thumb Down


    Dear Struan Robertson,

    You couldn't miss the point by a wider margin even if you tried. This is not a question of whether or not the album cover might be illegal. This is a question of whether or not the right and the responsibility to publish an image of that cover lies with Wikimedia; or are third parties allowed to censor Wikipedia because, according to these parties, not a court of law, the image might be illegal. This sort of censorship flies straight into the face of centuries of judicial tradition that holds that a person has a right to defend himself against any accusations and is held innocent until proven guilty.

  13. Andrew Engel

    Er... No.

    The author of this article seems to miss several key points.

    There is a fundamental difference between Wikipedia preventing editing access to Wikipedia, and a third-party preventing access to part of Wikipedia. Wikipedia naturally has the right to control access to their own service. A third-party does not.

    It is simply not hypocritical to object to a third-party censoring your service, while still wishing to control access yourself.

    Essentially, the author is attributing a position of "all censorship is bad" to Wikipedia, then attacking them on it. But they don't hold that position, even if you regard editorial control as the same as censorship. This is a third-party declaring an image illegal and thus preventing access to it universally (presumably they should, as the author says, block Amazon too...). It is simply not the same as a site preventing editing of their own site - those blocked are still free to state their views elsewhere, or start their own site if they wish. Presumably no-one in the UK is allowed to access this image anywhere, now it has been declared - unofficially - illegal.

    Which brings us to the heart of the matter. The author seems to have no objection to a third-party, with no real authority, declaring material illegal resulting it in being censored by ISPs for fear of having to go to court. Can the writer of this article really not see the problem with that?

  14. Richard Kay

    Will renaissance art now be banned ?

    It seems to me as if much renaissance art until now generally considered suitable for all including children will either have to be banned or an extremely inconsistent stance is being taken. I searched for "renaissance cupid" on google images using strictsafe search option on:

    What indeed is an oil on canvas painting if it is not a "virtual photograph" ?

    The images I saw as a consequence were on very much the same level of provocation and indecency as the image from the Wikipedia Scorpions, article the text of which I was not allowed to read on account of Virgin Media following the IWF blacklist and wrongly telling me the web page in question was empty. This censorship was clearly not effective in denying access to the image in question which I had seen years ago in Germany displayed for sale in a shop then open to children. I was able to find the same image within a couple of minutes elsewhere, but the censorship did prevent me from reading the rest of the Wikipedia Scorpions article.

    This is totally crazy. What right do the self-styled "Virgin Media" have to ban the Scorpion's Virgin Killers German edition cover any more than e.g. the "Venus and Cupid", oil on canvas painting by Battista Dossi, ( ) and then claim to be "Virgin Media" as opposed to the Whore of Babylon Media themselves ? Time for Richard Branson to consider a name change for his company.

  15. Ned Fowden

    other instances ?

    are there any other instances of other album covers syuffering the same fate, or is this simply a case of Scorpions bashing.

    i posted this story along with the extreme porn law story on a forum i frequently used, within moments there were pictures added of other album covers showing very similar images as the Scorpions cover.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What a load of crap

    The IWF is not protecting anyone here - pedos have proven themselves to be technically quite adept at getting around simple filtering like this and have set up sophisticated (and much more threatening) networks dealing in imagery which one assumes gives them much greater gratification than the one in question.

    The question of how the IWF makes it's decisions has not been answered. They are not publicly accountable and seem to be self appointed arbiters of what is art and what is pron.

    While there is no doubt that we should censor indecent images of children the IWF had taken the first step on a slipery slope. Until a few days ago I doubt that many people had heard of them and I'm sure that virtually nobody would have called what they do in to question. Now they appear to be just another overzealous back room censorship organisation without public scrutiny. They have not done themselves (nor the people they are 'protecting') any favours here.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    "Wikimedia general counsel Mike Godwin said: "We have no reason to believe the article, or the image contained in the article, has been held to be illegal in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world." But Godwin's argument misses the point.

    Web hosts must not wait for an image to be declared unlawful by a court when they receive a complaint, albeit only a court can declare an image unlawful. If they wait, there is every chance that the declaration will come at their own trial."

    No, it's you that's missed the point. They've never received any such request to take it down, and they're based in the US, so IWF doesn't count as an authority, being a UK-based organisation. And the FBI already came to their own conclusions earlier in the year on this image, therefore, unless none other than the FBI changes their tune, (even less likely than IWF admitting they were wrong), or the image makes it to US courts in a separate case, the image stays.

    Besides every reference you made to an image being removed/blocked is also largely wrong; they blocked an encyclopedia page (EU human rights law, article 10, freedom of expression) , NOT the image, which is stored at a different URL on wikipedia's uploads pages. (And about 100 times on google images, a few times on amazon, and so forth...)

    Last the whole of the UK being unable to edit wikipedia is a UK ISP issue with what their proxy servers are doing whenever you try to access ALL of the rest of the site. (also a freedom of expression issue)

  18. Dave


    I am not a lawyer, and find it hard to believe the author of this article is either, except in the fact that he seems capable of arguing both sides of a case at once!

    I think the first piece that was written about this was about right, in saying that EVERYONE comes out of this badly:

    The IWF announced a ban on a page, not an image.

    The ISP's implemented the ban poorly - both in the technical measures they used, and by failing to block any of the alternative paths.

    Amazon comes out of it badly for continuing to sell the album.

    Skorpions come out of it badly for having poor taste.

    The Police come out of it badly for not being able to make a reliable decision when called upon.

    The law comes out of it badly, overall.

    Wikipedia ALWAYS looks stupid - only a lawyer could possibly make an excuse for them.

  19. Steven Jones

    Illegal Image?

    Two questions here - firstly, it's only an illegal image if/when a court rules on it given the grey area this is in. However, it might be considered to be prudent to not make such an image available if only for self interest reasons. There is, incidentally, a difference between a website which has a policy over how it manages and controls its own content (which is what Wikipedia does) and censorship in the control of what people can and cannot see elsewhere. There's a considerable difference between the two. Wikipedia is as a joint community venture, it is not anarchy or complete free-for-all and never has been. The author of this piece ought to be able to tell the difference.

    However, the second issue is El Reg's provision of a direct link to the offending Wikipedia page. that surely is inviting readers to go and look at such an image (and maybe making them liable to legal sanction).

  20. Neil Stansbury
    Thumb Down

    OUTLAW of something...

    ["though. The former is within the control of the IWF, the latter is not. "]

    Ah.... I see... so what you are saying is that it's not the poor IWF's fault the WP editors were blocked, as it was just an unfortunate side effect.

    Right... so when the judges dish out the punishment - they shouldn't be held accountable for the consequences of their chosen enforcement - intentional or otherwise?

    ["The law has always recognised the need for some censorship. Our freedom of speech is qualified by laws that control defamation and copyright infringement, for example."]

    Our freedom of speech most certainly isn't curtailed or qualified by these laws.

    1) NOWHERE does the law say you can't do this - it says if you behave in this manner there are legal consequences. The IWF forcibly restricted public domain information, thus did infringe on a fundamental right to choose.

    2) The above laws themselves protect individual liberties along the basis of self-ownership. You own your own thoughts ideas and expressions, and equally own the benefits of them. (Taking things you don't own is called theft).

    "Not all censorship is evil"

    Hmmm.....a statement so intellectually lazy it's almost not worth bothering with except....

    So... a self-appointed minority of individuals are forcibly restricting [legal] access to public domain content - and you see this as a "not evil" thing? I hear Iran is nice this time of year.

    I think you've thrown the baby out and kept the bath water mate.

  21. Dick Emery
    Thumb Down


    So you are saying that the IWF are right and Wikipedia are wrong? Wikipedia is using a different kind of censorship. It may hold a blacklist of IP's that have been known to be disruptive to the website in handing out false information in order to try and corrupt the database on their site. Whilst it's true that anyone can edit the pages it's also true that there are a lot of people trying to spread false information for their own personal agendas. Whilst I cannot speak for the Wikipedia foundation and it's members on what their right to censor others views are I can clearly state that it is totally unlike the methodology being used by the IWF.

    Wiki's blacklist is entirely different to the IWF's in that it is selective of singular IP's to a singular person or set of people.

    The IWF's blacklist however is a blanket ban.

    Wiki's blacklist is about preventing dispersion of false information from a single source (An IP address) whilst the IWF's aim is to prevent EVERYONE from accessing certain images or information deemed 'potentially illegal'.

    The IWF are an independently elected body that appears to be unnacountable to nobody but themselves and performing censorship of the masses without the masses request or even any knowledge that they are doing so (Until now).

    This is thought control of the worst kind. Because it denies you the freedom of choice. Good or bad. It also has unintended consequences like the censoring of an entire page on Wikipedia.

    You also go on about images being potentially illegal should be blocked NOW rather than subject to scrutiny by a proper legal body. So you are now acting as the judge and juror of what constitutes an illegality with no authority whatsoever? Get bent!

    I am appalled at this opinion El Reg.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clarity, Accountability and Openness

    "Web hosts must not wait for an image to be declared unlawful by a court when they receive a complaint, albeit only a court can declare an image unlawful. If they wait, there is every chance that the declaration will come at their own trial."

    There lies the crux of the problem, there exists no means for a prompt and legally binding decision from a court about the legality of an image combined with the complete absence of any definite rules to allow a hosting company to decide if an image is unlawful or not.

    This means web hosts will err far too far on the side of caution and pull any content you complain about that isnt pictures of fluffy cats, and they will probably pull those if you invoke the magic words copyright violation.

    I dont doubt the need for censorship but if you are going to impliment censorship it needs to be done properly, openly, legally and to the same standards as other media, not in the half assed way its being done now.

    The IWF have no legal basis for there existence and much as their intentions are good they are basically vigilantes, society doesnt tolerate people taking the law into their own hands in other matters, why should it in this case?

    The IWF should probably be brought under state control as a part of the legal system with proper accountability so that a ruling can be made on the legality of an image before it is banned and that ruling can be applied to all media so you dont end up in the odd situation where an image as part of a photography book or an actual album cover is ok but the same picture on a computer is unlawful which seems to be the direction this case is heading in, and if their remit is only to censor images then their blocking system should do just that, block images, not pages containing images. If you are going to censor at least do it well.

    And the thing that truly annoyed me, Once a decision has been made to block a page/image/site the ISP's should do as demon does and substitute a page/image/site notifiying the user of the censorship and why, not fake a 404.

    If the critera for censorship are well defined and understood by everybody there is no need to hide the fact something is being censored as people will in general understand and accept it.

    Unlike the current system of ill defined or non existant criteria and secretive blocking where it can all become a media circus in a matter of days.

    This state of affairs is only going to get worse with the introduction of the extreme porn ban and the complete absence of any rules about what is and isnt allowed.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I just hope

    the author of this wasn't paid!

    This is possibly one of the most trivial articles on the subject I've read. It leaves so many questions unanswered. I haven't seen the offending image but as others have said mere nudity isn't wrong. Of course we may wish to consider what kind of consent the subject could have given, if the subject is recognisable and so on.

    I don't particularly care for Wiki wallies but they have got a point that the IWF is not a judge and all that has happened is that one person, Wiki has said the image is OK and another, IWF has said not. The IWF is not somehow more qualified to make a decision and there seems to be a real danger that whilst embroiled in the political struggle for the moral high ground a lot of harmless things will get banned because there's an outside chance they might perhaps maybe offend someone.

  24. Anonymous Coward


    "The IWF says that its system cannot ban individual JPEG files, though."

    So if we're to believe the article (and hence the IWF) as written then that means the IWF wrote a system to block indecent images of children (a very worthy goal, don't get me wrong) that cannot block the actual images and thus renders the entire system somewhat pointless?

    However, that said, given I get a 404 response from Wikipedia when attempting to access the blocked page I would suspect that they have a blocked list of URLs and if the proxy servers encounter any requests for that URL they issue a 404 or whatever. This would mean that the content type of the URL has no bearing on whether it's blockable and therefore they could infact block images.

    Infact the wikipedia article on Cleanfeed (google it) and indeed the references within it state that it is possible to block individual images with this technology.

    What am I missing?

    Anon? Just because.

  25. Dave


    So now Virgin (funny name that for a bunch of f**kers) Media have taken to censoring my connection. I must therefore infer that everything I can see over my connection is approved by them?

  26. jon


    banning a page is as simple as banning an image... ie. both requiring URLs....

  27. Andy

    Futility and stupidity

    The idea behind the IWF is fine (in theory) but the trouble is in the implementation. This album cover can be viewed on many sites - should every single URL be blocked ? If the IWF were to apply their criteria properly then yes.

    This would mean blocking Google, Yahoo, Amazon and most search engines that display images - as well as blocking specific pages from other sites (eg a certain site that has this album as #1 worst cover of all time !).

    Blocking the Wiki page has had VERY unintended side effects - inability for UK editors to amend pages - what might happen if Google / Yahoo pages were blocked ?

    Also we have the issue of only some ISPs being blocked as others appear not to be signed up to the IWF's list.

    The attempt to ban the image from the UK , while fine in principle, has not worked. Nor can it work without banning the sites mentioned above by all ISPs. Without too much effort I could probably find 100 unique pages with the album cover on it - there are probably many hundreds - ban them all ?

    The idea of "ban a page if it might possibly be dodgy" is ill thought out. Don't get me wrong - the basic idea of the IWF seems fine - but in this case it seems it cannot possibly ban all pages that contain this image. Therefore it should ban none.

    Did I go and have a look at the image ? Yes.

    Does this make me a criminal now ? I really don't know - that might depend on which site I saw it on, which ISP I happened to use, whether I use a proxy server etc. It seems woefully messed up.

    What did I think of the image ? Pretty tasteless - even for heavy rock 30 years ago in Germany !

  28. Anonymous Coward


    All very well, but this image has been around in print on the album itself and (apparently) in books for thirty-odd years. And now it magically becomes illegal because it's on the web? Talk about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted...

    What credibility the IWF may have had has just been shot to pieces by this stupidity.

    This is as daft as the rumpus over that Mapplethorpe book the police in Birmingham tried to claim was obscene 12 years after publication, which naturally got thrown out the minute it was put before a real judge.

    And this still doesn't address why a group of self-appointed wannabe Whitehouses with no electoral remit think they have the right to act as judge, jury and executioner over this stuff in any case.

    By the way, the image is also on Amazon UK on the version of the album that comes as part of a two-album boxed set, though it's very small and on one of the alternative views. Still no word of an IWF ban on that then? Stupid *and* inconsistent...

    Don't know about you, but my forbears fought two world wars to keep us safe from the kinds of morons who think that burning books is a good idea: why internet censorship should be seen as somehow more OK beats me.

  29. dan

    What made _me_ angry

    Consider and dissect the following assumptions:

    1) People generally agree that exploitation of children is wrong. This applies to sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

    2) People generally agree that not all content is appropriate. For example, people generally agree that books or websites that directly incite (for example) murder should be banned.

    3) People generally believe that the reason we need to ban "bad" content is because it will encourage others to mimic the behavior.

    4) Some people believe that those guilty of producing said content (or indeed guilty of the behavior without the added factor of recording it in some way) should be treated as being ill and should be offered treatment. Other people believe that they are criminals who make their decisions while in full control of their faculties - they should therefore be treated as such. Finally, some people believe that each case should be treated on an individual basis - for example, calling for a violent revolution against a (perceived) oppressive regime does not fall in the same category as distributing snuff films; similarly, distributing snuff films cannot be held in the same regard as producing horror movies with a sexual element.

    All that being said, what made me angry was the process of censorship. The act of banning, without warning or explanation, of any content is the real danger. The BBFC (a body with as few legal powers as the IWF, but with as much commercial 'pull') at least provides an explanation of its decisions (e.g. what particular law was in danger of being breached). While it is arguably just as difficult to challenge those decisions, what is important is that the process is _somewhat_ more open (although it's very, very far from perfect). It would be trivial for ISPs to provide an information page every time a user hits a banned page. My fear is that without this information people will simply assume that the content doesn't exist - and that's when we get into the realm of the more extreme censorship that people have been SHOUTING about. It's not impossible to perceive how over time the lack of content will mean that knowledge of said content will pass completely out of our shared knowledge. Now that _is_ scary.

  30. Andrew

    Mike Godwin

    Wikimedia general counsel Mike Godwin said: "...

    Who cares what that Nazi has to say?


  31. Anonymous Coward

    What a crock....

    ... of crap. "Don't have the means to block individual jpeg images" - What a load of crap. Presumably they are filtering it based on the URL used to access it (as evidenced by some people being able to use alternate URLs to view the content) - a jpeg image has a URL just the same as a page on wikipedia/any site does. They could quite easily have just blocked the images - which would have been more effective, rather than just the pages.

  32. myxiplx

    block the image, not the content

    So if IWF are in the right here, why did they block the entire page, and not just the objectionable content?

    That is what everybody is up in arms about. Blocking child porn images, fair enough, I won't complain about my ISP doing that. Blocking articles on an encyclopedia (regardless of whether El Reg likes it), no thank you.

  33. Alex Wright
    Thumb Down


    "So it bans pages on which images appear, not the images themselves."

    So the IWF bans the legal text and not the illegal picture? How is that in any way sensible?

    Surely it would be best to ban the picture not the text?

  34. dreadful scathe

    surely this article is a mild rant against wikipedia

    an incredibly simplistic and biased view! Wikipedias policy for editing is up to wikipedia and is not in any way comparable to the IWFs blocking of certain pages on the internet based on some highly suspect persons view of indecency. The IWF and some ISPs are clearly closely linked so Wikipedia have a valid point (albeit one edged with unfounded argument for wikipedia openness), and I'm no fanboy for the "online encyclopedia of public opinion accountable to beer[sic] review".

  35. Graham Wood

    I don't agreee.

    Blocking the text of an article which includes a discussion as to the validity of the picture itself is probably the wrong way to go about this - but that's not the main thing that has caused the uproar.

    A much bigger part of the problem is the way that this list is managed - the ISPs are effectively being forced to use the whole list without any form of "oversight" being possible, and there's no public scrutiny as to whether the pages that are being blocked are "reasonable".

    There has also been a block placed on the very wikipedia page that includes a discussion as to the IWF ban:

    If any other country did this (blocked 'A', and then blocked access to a discussion of the blocking of 'A') then there would be screams from all over the land about how the regime was as bad as communist China.

  36. P. J. Isserlis

    Wikipedia - encylopaedia?

    "...Wikipedia – an encyclopedia, run by a charitable organization, which has been repeatedly gauged as equivalent in quality to conventional encyclopedias"

    Really? By whom? Among almost everyone I know and much that I read, Wikipedia is considered a risky source of misinformation because of its lack of professional editing, lack of attribution and general openness to manipulation by anyone who declares himself or herself an expert, despite there being a few really useful and informative pages. "Oh no, not Wikipedia!" is the usual response to those who quote it. They can not even spell Encylopaedia!

  37. Stuart
    Thumb Down

    Puritanical Self Censorship

    I checked out the Scorpion Image (thanks IWF - you must have increased its viewership a thousandfold). Err you don't need to trouble Wikipedia/Amazon or your ISP's transparent proxy if you have an ounce of searching skill.

    I'm a bit of a prude - like being surprised anyone on R2 would broadcast Brandt/Ross episode - but I would not have dreamt of censoring this image if it appeared on one of my forums. Obviously I was wrong and to protect myself, my members, the nations morals and every pubescent girl - I should have removed it forthwith. Which begs the question of recognising the difference between a tasteful nude photo and 'extreme porn' (as in the other story about the woman in polythene).

    No time to consult lawyers, ask my friendly local plod et al. So it looks like nudity has to be off limits per se. That's the only safe understandable easy rule one can have when providing a community forum. Glad I'm not running flickr.

    I was a child of the era that published Lady Chatterley's Lover and got rid of the Lord Chamberlain. Looks like we have already gone back to the puritanical fifties and still travelling.

    Mind you, if anyone has a photo nude 15 year Wacki Jacqui - I think I might be tempted to publish and enjoy my penal servitude.

  38. Neil
    Thumb Down

    A few things...

    I'm sorry but calling wikimedia a hypocrite and trying to compare wikimedia user access control to censorship is a weak argument at best. The author is simply trying to bulk out his argument here like any good lawyer would in my opinion.

    As for arguing the legality of the image. Yes it may very well be illegal here. But the law is actually unclear.. If we receive a take down notice as an ISP we would be considered to be "on notice". If we then do not acknowledge and remove it whilst it is in dispute (whatever it is) and it is proved to be illegal it is possible we can be taken to court for 3rd party copyright infringement for example in the case of copyright infringement. But actually it is still up to our client to prove the contents legality. If we notify them of a the take down request and we keep the disputed item up whilst he defends his content. As per our terms & conditions if we are sued we can then pass the legal & judgment cost onto the client however he may not be able to pay by this point unless he was a business with the means. End result the ISP is likely to lose out financially. This is why most ISP's don't question take down notices.

    In the UK at least can be tracked to the "Demon Internet vs Godfrey" case where a user complained to Demon asking them to take down a defamatory remark made against his name on a usenet group. Demon did nothing, usenet is then replicated all over the world so it could no longer effectively be taken down. Demon was successfully sued in the high court for 3rd party libel (Something like that, I can't remember the exact charge). Since it was a high court judgment it set a UK precedent, whether you agree with it or not. As you can see this whole legal area is a bit of a mess. There's no way your average member of public can fight this unless they really want to spend a lot of money in court.

    The real issue which has angered the internet community is that content can and will be increasingly censored in the UK without any notice or any details of what is being filtered by ISP's. There is no transparency and no mandate for them to do so even if the ISP's are acting in good faith in this case.

    My personal problem with this situation is with Virginmedia. We happen to get transit with them. Over a week ago we noticed that traffic directed down virgin to en.wikipedia .org was hitting a blank page. Further investigation showed they had started broadcasting wikipedias english prefix (their ip) as on their own AS. This means essentially that virgin are now claiming to be controllers of wikipedias server. This as far as I'm concerned is impersonation. Since BGP is a protocol based on "trust" we trust them to provide us with correct routes to other areas of the internet. Also since they claim to own the ip address it appears to only be 1 hop away from us which is therefore automatically higher priority than any of the routes sent to us by our other providers who give the true number of hops to the servers (About 5-10 or so over to America). Unless we filter their route we our traffic will continue to hit this invalid server. This fundamentally breaks BGP. I believe RIPE frown heavily on this kind of practice.

    Finally the other problem is of course censorship is utterly useless. Content is replicated so many times all over the place it is impossible to suppress. Your only really suppressing it from the law abiding majority. The people your trying to really hinder can easily circumvent these inconveniences.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Gotta love the defence...

    "It's worth noting that the image is currently visible on Amazon, where the album can be freely purchased by UK residents." "

    As can counterfeit goods, CS gas and pepper spray (yes I saw watchdog). So is it ok to sell these and use the defence "Well Amazon sell them".

  40. jai

    negative ratings?

    how come there are so many negative ratings for this piece?

    i know that no one likes the idea of censorship, but surely we can agree there is a time and a place when it is right and that is at least child pornography?

    or are you all sick-twisted-pro-kiddieporn-tards?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Wiki workaround

    It's been pointed out on Wikipedia that if you use their secure server the ban is ineffective. I feel it is no more than my duty as a responsible citizen to report that HTTPS link to the IWF as well ;)

  42. Ed Deckard

    Err, hold up

    "All traffic from affected ISPs now looks to Wikipedia like it comes from the same IP address. That causes a problem for Wikipedia. It doesn't mind who looks at its pages – but it wants to control who can change them. It has its own blacklist, a list of people from certain IP addresses who are forbidden from changing Wikipedia's pages. Wikimedia does this because it does not like what they write. So its criticism of the IWF is hypocritical."

    Wikimedia and/or the hivemind may censor stuff (I recall something along those lines to do with "naked" short-selling and another case involving a shady Indian guru) but merely recording and controlling who does what, where does not constitute proof that they practice censorship in any meaningful way. Preventing vandalism, spam, etc. != censorship, as the nice mod person for this comments page should know, and an IP address is necessary for such actions.

    I say this as someone who hates wiki-wankers as much as you do, probably more.

  43. Duncan Power

    Why the IWF was wrong to ban a Wikipedia page

    I would agree with the author that the ISPs and the IWF should not have to wait for the government to decide if an image is decent... and in this case they did not have to. The image is an album cover from the 70s. It caused a media storm at the time and yet was not censored by the UK government, nor was it censored 2 years later when the The Protection of Children Act came into effect. If it is an illegal image then it has been illegal for the last 30 years and every high street and online music store is pedalling paedophilia. If it is not illegal then the IWF has censored a legal image. I suspect the latter is most likely the truth, in which case this is a clear instance of negligence and poor research by the IWF.

  44. Jamie Kitson


    This argument hinges upon the fact that edits cannot be made by people using the "censoring" ISPs. I don't think this is true though. I am an O2 customer, I cannot view the page in question and I cannot *anonymously* edit any article. However, once I log in, I can. What's the big deal?

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Sexually provocative' is in the eye of the censor

    Another one of these personal viewpoints transposed to every other person. Like how easily offended people take offence on behalf of Andrew Sachs, even when he says he's not offended...

    IMHO it says more about the censors feelings towards images of children than the majority view.

  46. Mark
    Paris Hilton

    The problem is it's "potentially"

    Everything is *potentially* illegal. See SCO's "Methods and concepts" idea (meaning copying the ideas would be illegal, since it is argued in court, it must be potentially illegal) and the later "negative know-how" which likewise, since it was not repudiated by the court as a malicious and obvious misapplication of law, must therefore be considered *potentially* illegal to use "well, when he did it this way, it didn't work, so I'll do it a different way".

    Is the image illegal?


    Block it.


    Don't block it.

    Not "is the image possibly illegal?". That is just fooking retarded. Find out if it IS illegal (see also a recent El Reg topic on the subject) and if it is, persue it as illegal and block it in the meantime so you aren't colluding in an illegal (not potentially illegal) act.

    I mean, by selling me a CD, amazon are potentially helping me to copy the CD in breech of the copyright act and therefore potentially, by selling me a CD an illegal act is done. Aiding and abetting a potentially illegal act?

    Again, the icon for obvious reasons.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    To quote the censor:

    It's also worth noting that the law covers only photographs and 'pseudo photographs' – so the IWF will not censor, as one contributor to a BBC blog fears, Michelangelo's David

    No, they wouldn't even think of doing that would they?

  48. Michael Baines
    Black Helicopters

    This argument makes no sense

    If "It's worth noting that the image is currently visible on Amazon, where the album can be freely purchased by UK residents" then the image on the cover is surely legal (or it would have been banned from sale long ago) and therefore should not be censored at all?

    (I bet the IWF have a couple of black helicopters in a hanger somewhere...)

  49. Anonymous Coward


    Wikimedia may well be hypocritical, but so is the IWF. Why has Amazon, HMW et al not been blocked as well? Why have record shops selling this album not been raided? Why have the band, the cover artist, their record label and their distributors not been charged?

    It is either child porn or it isn't. I wish the IWF and the police would make their bloody minds up.

    I also wish someone at El Reg would investigate these questions, rather than simply re-hash what we already know.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Dodgy reasoning, misleading article title

    "The sleeve was banned in many countries when the album was released."

    But not the UK - how can a physical copy of the album be totally acceptable to sell in shops, but not to view on a website?

    Despite the title of this article, it seems to be nothing more than an attack on Wikipedia and a defence of censorship in general. I'd disagree that anything should be censored in an ideal world, but given the impossibility of getting material removed from servers across the world, I can see why this is the method chosen. However, if we are going to have censorship, shouldn't we have transparent censorship with a right to appeal? Instead of displaying the potentially offensive content, display a message reading "we believe this content is illegal in the UK. If you think this is incorrect, please contact the webmaster of this site and advise them to contact us at the following email address"


This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019