UK Wikipedia blacklisting dropped

A block on a Wikipedia page over child pornography concerns in the UK has been lifted.

A Wikipedia page blacklisted this weekend in the UK over child pornography concerns has been unblocked, a decision that also fully restores the ability of UK residents to edit articles in this popular online encyclopedia.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the nonprofit group that blacklisted the Web page, announced on Tuesday that it has reversed course on the matter, although it still believes the image is potentially illegal in the UK The image in question is of a naked and possibly underage female on the cover of a 1976 album from German rock group The Scorpions titled "Virgin Killer."

"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," the IWF said in a statement. About 95 percent of U.K. ISPs (Internet service providers), by Wikimedia's estimate, block Web pages based on IWF's list.

The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit operator of Wikipedia, praised the IWF's decision. "We are grateful to the IWF for making this swift decision, and to thousands of Internet users from around the world for their outpouring of support," said Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, in a statement.

Upon finding out that the article had been blacklisted, Wikimedia on Sunday cried foul, saying the move amounted to censorship and pointing out that the block had disabled most U.K. residents' ability to edit Wikipedia articles.

Wikimedia further argued that the block unfairly targeted Wikipedia because the image is available broadly across the Web, including at giant online retailer Amazon.com, which, according to Wikimedia, sells the album. Amazon.com didn't respond to a request for comment on Monday. Neither the article nor the image has been determined to be illegal anywhere in the world, according to Wikimedia.

The album has been controversial due to the cover image since its release more than three decades ago, and the Wikipedia article in question is "explanatory" in nature, describing and contextualizing "the controversy surrounding the image, in a neutral and educational fashion," Wikimedia said in a FAQ devoted to the issue.

The chain of events got started on Dec. 4, when the IWF received a report from someone objecting to the Wikipedia article about the album that featured the cover image. Upon reviewing the user's complaint, the IWF, which works with law enforcement to block and remove child pornography online, decided to blacklist this Web page. ISPs that block pages based on the IWF's list then took action to shut off access to the offending Wikipedia article.

Once Wikipedia landed on the IWF blacklist, U.K. ISPs adopting the block began routing access to Wikipedia through a transparent proxy server. This made all U.K. Internet users indistinguishable by IP address, making them appear to Wikipedia as the same person. This in turn triggered a Wikipedia protective mechanism against abusive editing, leading the site to prevent these users from editing, according to Wikimedia.

Wikimedia estimates that there are "tens of thousands" of U.K. residents who regularly edit Wikipedia articles, amounting to about 25 percent of all edits to the English version of the encyclopedia.

The image in the Wikipedia article is hosted outside the U.K., an issue addressed by the IWF in its statement Tuesday. "Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted abroad, will not be added to the list. Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted in the U.K. will be assessed in line with IWF procedures."

The IWF lamented that while its goal is to minimize the availability of indecent images of children on the Internet, its decision to blacklist the Wikipedia article "had the opposite effect."

"We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users," IWF said.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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