Reversal: UK watchdog pulls Wikipedia page off blacklist

IWF reverses its decision on The Scorpions' controversial 1976 album cover image

The U.K.'s Internet watchdog has reversed its controversial decision made earlier this week to censor a Wikipedia article, enabling users to view the piece and resume editing other articles on the online encyclopedia.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a nonprofit group that works with law enforcement to block and remove child pornography from Web sites, Tuesday took the Wikipedia article about an album by the German rock band, The Scorpions. off of its blacklist. About 95 percent of UK ISPs support IWF the blacklist.

The article concerns the band's Virgin Killer album, which was released 32 years ago. The record's cover photo, which is an image of a nude and likely underage girl, has generated controversy ever since it was released in 1976, and an image of the photo on Wikipedia prompted the page's addition to the blacklist published by the IWF earlier this week.

In an online statement on Tuesday, the IWF said it had blacklisted the page because it was potentially in breach of the UK Protection of Children Act 1978. "However," the statement added, "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 webpage from our list."

Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs Wikipedia, said in a statement that she's grateful for the IWF's swift decision and that Wikipedia tries to be responsive and responsible when it comes to legal concerns.

However, Mike Godwin, General Counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, called for more transparency and accountability from watchdog groups.

"We recognize the good intentions of Internet watch groups, including their focus on blocking and discouraging illegal content," said Godwin in his statement. "In the long run, monitoring groups need to develop a public set of best practices. These best practices should, at a minimum, decrease the impact on content found to be lawful, acknowledge the context in which the content at issue occurs, and be maximally transparent both to service providers and to individual users. There should be no false or misleading error messages when online censorship does occur."

Oliver Young, an analyst with Forrester Research, told Computerworld that the blacklisting of the article puts a spotlight on how decisions are made about content at Wikipedia.

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