December 8, 2008

UK Blocks Wikipedia Page Over Child Image

Several Internet providers in the UK decided to block a Wikipedia page showing an image of a naked girl, angering many users of the site.

The censored page shows an album cover of German heavy metal band Scorpions, released in 1976.

After online watchdog the Internet Watch Foundation warned Wikipedia that the picture might be illegal, Internet providers acted to have it blocked.

"It was a potentially illegal child sexual abuse image," IWF said.

But some of the volunteers who run Wikipedia argued that it was not the foundation's place to censor one of the Internet's most popular sites. Several pointed out that the image was available in a number of books and had never been ruled illegal.

However, IWF officials said it had consulted the police before making its decision.

IWF's list of proscribed sites is widely used by British Internet service providers to filter out images showing child abuse and other illegal content. Now the addition of the Scorpions Wikipedia page has made it inaccessible to the majority of British Internet users.

As many as 95% of British users would now be unable to access the page, IWF said.

David Gerard, a Wikipedia volunteer, said he and fellow users were angry that as well as the photo, the text on the page had been blocked.

"Blocking text is a whole new thing - it's the first time they've done this on such a visible site," he said.

"The album cover is still available as part of the band's box set and can be viewed on retail websites," Gerard said.

"When we asked the Internet Watch Foundation why they blocked Wikipedia and not Amazon, apparently the decision was 'pragmatic', which we think means that Amazon had money and would sue them, whereas we're an educational charity."

But the image could potentially contravene the Protection of Children Act 1978, according to Susan Robertson of the IWF.

"We only act on the reports we receive, and as I understand it, the only report we received regarding this content, as of Friday, was the content on Wikipedia," she said.

Robertson believes the IWF needed to "take a view" on the images available on Amazon with its "analyst team and police partners".

The removal of the page also appeared to have stopped thousands of UK users from editing articles on Wikipedia, which allows readers to self-edit its pages, according to Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation.

"It appears that there's a large number of editors - I can't say all - who appear to have access issues," he said.

A spokeswoman for IWF said a reader had brought the image to the foundation's attention last week and it had contacted the police before adding the page to their list.

One of the world's most popular websites, Wikipedia is a multi-lingual online database written, edited and funded largely by its users. It has 2.6 million articles in English alone.


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