Watchdog Backs Down Over Wikipedia Ban

Dennis Faas's picture

The Internet Watch Foundation has removed a Wikipedia page from its 'banned' list. The page, featuring an album cover by rock band Scorpions, had been blocked by several British Internet providers during the row.

The organization, which has no legal authority, is a self-regulated charity. It monitors websites for content which is illegal to display in the United Kingdom and maintains a list of such material. What gives the IWF so much power and influence is that many of Britain's largest Internet providers (covering an estimated 95% of users) automatically block any pages that appear on the list.

Generally, that doesn't cause any problems as long as the material concerned is in fact illegal. However, last week the IWF added the Wikipedia page for the Scorpions album Virgin Killer. That's because it features an image of the original album cover which portrays a naked girl that appears to be under the age of consent.

Not only did this block many Brits from seeing the page (they instead got a blank page provided by their ISP) but for unclear technical reasons it meant British users could not longer edit any Wikipedia pages unless they were registered on the site.

The decision prompted a heated response, partly because it appears unlikely the image does actually breach British laws. It also sparked debate about whether it is appropriate for a non-governmental body to effectively have the power to ban a website in this way.

The IWF has now unblocked the site. It insists the image may still breach British laws but says it acknowledges that it has been widely available since the album's 1976 release. It's believed to be the first time the IWF has reversed a decision on a controversial page. (Source:

Ironically, one of the other mainstream sites hosting the image, the US version of Amazon, has just voluntarily removed the picture. (Source:

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