Controversial Wikipedia Ban Lifted by U.K. Watchdog Group

A U.K. Internet watchdog group today reversed its decision to ban a Wikipedia page over an image its members considered indecent.

The Internet Watch Foundation placed the Wikipedia page for the Scorpions' 1976 album "Virgin Killer" onto its blacklist Friday. The group, a nonprofit, nongovernment-affiliated organization, describes its mission as the "UK's internet ‘Hotline' for the public and IT professionals to report potentially illegal online content."

The foundation received a complaint over the album's original cover image, shown clearly on the Wikipedia page. The image features a photo of a young girl completely nude, with a cracked glass effect obscuring her genital area.

The IWF's blacklist is used by the majority of U.K. Internet service providers, so its decision to censor the page had a wide-reaching impact. The Wikimedia Foundation--parent organization of Wikipedia--immediately denounced the ban, noting that the image had been published for decades and had never been deemed illegal. Free speech advocates questioned the group's right to impose its moral assessment onto millions of others without any legal backing.

Reasons for the Reversal

The IWF now says it has reconsidered the Wikipedia case in light of those appeals. "The procedure is now complete and has confirmed that the image in question is potentially in breach of the Protection of Children Act 1978. However, the IWF Board has today (9 December 2008) considered these findings and the contextual issues involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this Web page from our list," a statement says.

The group goes on to say it will not ban any other sites featuring the "Virgin Killer" cover image, putting to rest discussion of a possible censorship of Amazon, which had hosted the image on its store pages.

"IWF's overriding objective is to minimize the availability of indecent images of children on the Internet. However, on this occasion, our efforts have had the opposite effect," the IWF concedes. "We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users."

Wikimedia's Response

The Wikimedia Foundation is already expressing its gratitude and "applauding" the IWF's reconsideration.

"We recognize the good intentions of Internet watch groups, including their focus on blocking and discouraging illegal content," says Mike Godwin, general counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation. "Nevertheless, this incident underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the processes of the Internet Watch Foundation and similar bodies around the world."

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