Tuesday, December 09, 2008

British ISPs Censor Wikipedia Over 'Scorpions' Album Cover...

The buzz is quickly spreading around cyberspace today that British editors of Wikipedia have been cut off by their ISPs. Apparently, the row is over the cover art from The Scorpions' album, Virgin Killer, which depicts a naked prepubescent girl.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) blacklisted Wikipedia after learning that the cover art was viewable on one of its web pages. But just who are these guys? The IWF touts itself as a sort of hotline where anyone can call in tips on "potentially illegal online content" and, somehow, 95% of British ISPs voluntarily abide by their blacklisting recommendations.

That's an awful lot of power for a private group to have without any legal basis.

Making matters worse, the consequence of the blacklisting has been that roughly 20,000 Wikipedia editors in Britain - which account for about one quarter of all of the site's English-language edits - have lost access to Wikipedia entirely. In other words, because one individual posted a controversial picture, 19,999 other people have, in effect, been completely censored from writing or editing about any topic on the entire site.


"The album is available in record shops in the UK with the controversial image. You can buy it right now. So do we need to worry the police will come and confiscate our record collections?" asked David Gerard, a Wikipedia editor in London.

Wikipedia declined to remove the album cover. "We are particularly displeased that the IWF chose to censor not solely the image, but also the explanatory article text which described and contextualized the controversy surrounding the image, in a neutral and educational fashion," the foundation said in a statement.

As absurd as some of this may seem, the backlash is already on its way. Hacktivists have spent the last 24 hours making sure that the album's image is posted everywhere online and is readily accessible, including in Britain. The actual Wikipedia page with the image has been made available through proxy servers by hacktivists living outside of the UK, bloggers have been re-posting the image left and right as they discuss the controversy, and some have even publicized the link to the BitTorrent file where people can download the entire album itself, along with the original cover art.

Once again, the hacktivists are demonstrating that if companies use too heavy a hand in exercising their authority - particularly in cases where they collectively punish thousands of individuals over an act committed by one person which may not even be illegal - then those companies can be sure to expect the exact results they are trying to ward off.


At 1:06 PM, Blogger Fitz said...

Thanks Rob. Scorpio aint my cup of tea but I just grabbed (illegally I guess?) the album cover from WikiPedia and I'm gonna share it around everywhere JUST for the free speech aspect of what the IWF are doing.


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