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UK Wikipedia filter a sign of things to come?

As the outrage continues to build in Australia over Government plans to introduce mandatory Internet filtering for ISPs, a furor has erupted in Britain over a number of UK ISPs blocking a Wikipedia page because of a complaint.

According to a BBC report, the ISPs blocked the Wikipedia page of well known German rock band Scorpions because one of its album covers shows an image of a naked girl. The Scorpions has sold more than 75 million albums and the band is considered to be one of the world's great hard rock groups.

The ISPs acted after receiving a complaint from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), an EU and online industry funded organisation which keeps a black list of sites that contain questionable and illegal content. The IWF warned ISPs that the album cover image may be illegal in the UK.

The Wikipedia organisation is up in arms over the incident because its whole site has been blocked by a substantial number of ISPs and the Scorpions page is now inaccessible to up to 95% of UK visitors, including those who wish to update the page.

Wikipedia has posted a commentary on the Scorpions page under the heading 'Controversy" which (broken up for the sake of readability) states:

"At least six of the United Kingdom’s main Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have implemented monitoring and filtering mechanisms that are causing major problems for UK contributors on websites operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, amongst up to 1200 other websites. Some ISPs have blocked customers from accessing some Wikimedia websites including the free, online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, altogether. The filters appear to be applied because Wikimedia sites are hosting a Scorpions album cover which some call child pornography.

"The filtering is in response to the Internet Watch Foundation’s list of websites that host or contain content that have been reported to contain inappropriate images of naked children (those under the age of 18). The IWF considers those images child pornography. However, in the United States (where the websites of the Wikimedia Foundation are hosted), it is not considered obscene under the criteria of the Miller test, which requires that an obscene work lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (as album art is used to “brand” the album, it is considered to be artistic).

"Contributors or individuals attempting to view an affected image or file, depending on their ISP, may get a warning saying, “we have blocked this page because, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), it contains indecent images of children or pointers to them; you could be breaking UK law if you viewed the page.”. Other ISPs provide blank pages, 404 errors, or other means of blocking the content."

According to the BBC, Wikipedia volunteers have slammed the actions of the IWF because it has effectively succeeded in censoring one of the world's most popular websites. They further state that the image is widely available in books and has never been ruled to illegal

Some volunteers who run Wikipedia said it was not for the foundation to censor one of the web's most popular sites.

They also argued that the image was available in a number of books and had never been ruled illegal.

For its part, the IWF, which watches for child abuse and racial hatred content, has told the BBC that it had consulted the UK police before mandating that the page should be blocked.

The whole incident has repercussions for Australia because the Federal Government has plans to introduce mandatory content filtering at the ISP level, a move which the Internet industry is largely opposed to.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.