German internet watchdog to remove URLs to 'Virgin Killer' from search engines

Friday, December 12, 2008

This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Wikinews has learned that a German Internet watchdog group is planning on removing the album cover of a German rock band album called Virgin Killer from search engines, just four days after the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), in the United Kingdom, blocked access to it on the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Wikipedia, along with Wikinews, are owned by the Wikimedia Foundation.

The German association for voluntary self-regulation in online media (FSM) asked the Federal Inspectorate for young people media (BPjM) on December 9, to remove URLs to the album cover from Germany's search engines. The action appears to be in direct response to the Wikipedia article and image blockage by the IWF on December 7. According to their website, the BPjM's goal is to "protect children and adolescents in Germany from any media which might contain harmful or dangerous content", pursuant to Germany's Youth Protection Act. The protection act regulates the distribution of harmful materials to minors. According to German press reports, the FSM received complaints and concerns that the image could be considered child pornography and pose a danger to minors.

The Virgin Killer album cover is from the 1976 German rock band Scorpions. It depicts a girl who appears to be around 10 to 12-years old, posing nude, with a lens crack crossing over her genitals, but nothing blocking out her breasts. It first appeared on the band's album over thirty years ago, and Klaus Meine, the lead singer for Scorpions, recently said that they regret having made the cover. It was later replaced with a photo of the band.

Despite the complaint, the FSM does not believe the album cover is actually child pornography, but says the dissemination of images of underage children as appears on the album cover, is "forbidden" in Germany.

"The picture shows the girl in an unnatural 'pose', and a such depiction is prohibited according to the German Youth Media Protection Law," said Maja Winter to Wikinews in an exclusive statement.

The URLs to the album cover will be blocked from being displayed or searched in search results in the German search engine service, which according to Winter "are members of the FSM". Winter also added that internet users in Germany will not be blocked from accessing the image.

1976 album cover for Scorpions which previously appeared on, and many other sites.
Image: RCA/Scorpions.

"The URL will thus still be online, but will not be searchable by the respective search engine services. The FSM is not planning nor developing nor implementing an internet filter on the access-level to block [the cover]," added Winter who also said that she had no information on previous complaints in the past 30 years. Winter also could not answer why the FSM decided to take such an action after so many years of the album cover being available and should contact the BPjM for more information. Despite the claim from the FSM, the BPjM said in a statement to Wikinews that they denied having any knowledge of any such attempt at removing URLs to the cover.

"The BPjM has no knowledge of any measures being taken to block the depiction of the album cover from German search engines," said Petra Meier, a spokesperson for the BPjM to Wikinews. The spokesperson also added that there have been no complaints filed with the BPjM regarding the cover.

As first reported by Wikinews on December 7, British Internet Service Providers (ISPs) implemented a monitoring and filtering mechanism that blocked access to the album cover and the album's article on Wikipedia. The measures applied redirect traffic for a significant portion of the UK's Internet population through six servers which can log and filter the content that is available to the end user. A serious side-effect of this is the inability of administrators on Wikimedia sites to block vandals and other troublemakers without potentially impacting hundreds of thousands of innocent contributors who are working on the sites in good faith. The IWF said that the image could "contain illegal" material, but on December 9, reversed their decision and unblocked the image and article.

"The Protection of Children Act 1978 as amended in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, makes it an offence to take, make, permit to be taken, distribute, show, possess with intent to distribute, and advertise indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children under the age of 18. The ‘making’ of such images includes downloading, that is, making a copy of a child sexual abuse image on a computer, so, in the UK, accessing such content online is a serious criminal offence," said the IWF in a statement on their website on December 7. Despite this, Mike Godwin, the legal counsel for Wikimedia said on December 9 that the image does not appear to be illegal anywhere in the world.

"We recognize the good intentions of Internet watch groups, including their focus on blocking and discouraging illegal content. Nevertheless, this incident underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the processes of the Internet Watch Foundation and similar bodies around the world," said the legal counsel for Wikimedia, Mike Godwin. On December 8, Godwin stated that there is "no reason to believe the article, or the image contained in the article, has been held to be illegal in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world."


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  Learn more about The Federal Inspectorate for young people media (BPjM) and the Youth Protection Act in German, on Wikipedia.