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08 December 2008, 16:06

Blocking row over Scorpions cover escalates

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According to a report from the Guardian newspaper, Amazon's website may be blocked for carrying an image of the cover of one version of the album "Virgin Killer" by the rock band The Scorpions.

The original complaint from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was concerning a Wikipedia page that carried a nude image of an allegedly under-age girl taken from the album cover artwork. The IWF classified the image as "child pornography" and added the page URL and Wikipedia's IP addresses to their blocking list. This list is used by "CleanFeed", a transparent proxy filter system used by a number of UK ISPs to block web pages carrying illegal and offensive material. A knock-on effect meant a number of broadband subscribers were no longer able to access Wikipedia at all.

The IWF have been reviewing their decision over the Wikipedia image and are considering adding Amazon to their list. Presumably they may also decide to add any other sites that carry the Scorpions' cover image.

The Guardian story suggests that the IWF's action could result in the Amazon website being shut down during at least some of the pre-Christmas period, with perhaps disastrous effects on sales. This seems unlikely, since in this case, the mechanism that caused complete blocking of the Wikipedia site is not involved. In any case it now appears that Amazon has forestalled any problems as the image seems to have been removed from its site.

Sarah Robertson, director of communications for the IWF, said that the original decision to block the Wikipedia page was taken after consultation with the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) agency. Robertson said the Scorpions image was deemed to be "1 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the least offensive". The image was judged to be "erotic posing with no sexual activity".

The IWF process around 35,000 URLs that are referred to them every year. If a page is judged to carry obscene content and the ISP is in the UK then they are contacted and asked to remove the content. Overseas sites are added the blacklist that is blocked by the CleanFeed servers.

This must all seem very strange to the Scorpions, since the record in question was first released in 1976. The band's leader said that the cover artwork had not been chosen by them, but by the record label. He said they certainly would not approve such a cover now.


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