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Some kind of Justice: Girls Aloud torture porn Redux

Publishers and internet users can breathe a sigh of relief today, as Newcastle Crown Court formally returned a not guilty verdict to the charges we first discussed back in December.

Darryn Walker, a civil servant, lost his job when the short story he posted online, Girls (Scream) Aloud, was seized upon by the utterly unaccountable Internet Watch Foundation. Worse, the prosecution offered no evidence when it came to trial. The case threatened to severely curtail freedom of speech online and off, with Sky News calling it one of the most significant [obscenity trials] since the trial over DH Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

The media still hasn’t got a real handle on it, however, with the BBC continuing to get the basic details wrong (it’s neither 12 pages long, or a blog). They also report that “As soon as he was aware of the upset and fuss that had been created, [Mr Walker] took steps himself to take the article off the website” – ignorant of the fact that it’s very much still online (and still NSFW – although far worse can be found in your local bookshop or even on this website).

Worse, there seems little impetus to question why this case was brought in the first place, or the ramifications of a “a report from a consultant psychiatrist [that] said it was “baseless” to suggest that reading such material could turn other people into sexual predators” (BBC, again) – a finding that, taken seriously, should have very real consequences for Britain’s outmoded and outlandish obscenity laws.

We hope that this result will lead to some inquiry into the role of the Internet Watch Foundation before it arbitrarily blocks or criminalises more legal material, but we’re not holding our breath. The government’s recent Digital Britain report stated that “The IWF’s work remains invaluable to every part of the value chain in the UK’s Internet industry” (Page 202, Final Report) – a weasel statement that conflates what’s good for the industry (desperately trying to stave off government interference with opaque self-regulation) with what’s good for citizens. This case could be used to better define the role of the IWF, rather than just calling for its funding to be increased, which is the Digital Britain report’s conclusion. We’ll keep watching.

Posted June 29, 2009 by James Bridle. Comments (0)
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