This amp goes up to 19!

What a strange story! First a Wikipedia entry about the album cover from a (mostly) forgotten 1970s German heavy rock band is, apparently out of nowhere, censored. It’s all over the national (and international) media for two days then, bam, tonight (as I'm writing this post) the decision is reversed.

The image of a naked girl on the sleeve of “Virgin Killer” had, we were told, been made the subject of a complaint to Britain’s industry regulatory body the Internet Watch Foundation. They had to act, they insisted. This was a possible issue of child pornography.

Except, strangely, (1) it was only Wikipedia that was made to remove info (no commercial online sites for example), (2) the image had apparently been lawfully available across the counter in record stores for years, including – apparently – right now.

Bizarre. Was this an unlikely PR exercise for a remake of “This Is Spinal Tap"? As if to bear out this possibility, I offer these tentative reasons as to why this might be more about “Tap” behaviour than careful policing of decency on the internet:

(1) An Internet Watch Foundation spokesperson was quoted as saying that its initial assessment of the image led it to conclude that it was “one on a scale of one to five” of offensiveness (surely an echo of the famous fact that the Tap’s lead guitarist’s amps go up to 11, not ten)

(2) Naked girls/boys/children/women/men are all over the world of music industry artwork, but the Tap’s ill-fated US promotion of their “Smell The Glove” album leads to them being blacklisted (and actually having the LP come out in a totally blank black sleeve)

(3) Both band’s schlock-metal style is self-parody and then some

Child pornography is an abomination but since when were all the amps being turned up on the issue of dusty old albums on the internet?

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales responded by raising several important concerns, including that of the need to guard against the erosion of free expression online. (Curiously, there’s no reference to the farrago on the Scorpions’ main Wikipedia entry, while the Virgin Killer entry has a lock in place until tomorrow because of “edit warring”, but the cover image is meanwhile plainly visible on the same site!)

So, in the week marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the row’s a strange one that casts an awkward sidelight onto online freedom of expression issues in Britain.

Perhaps instead of all that wailing feedback we could have just had the UDHR’s article 19 (right to free expression) cited in defence of Virgin Killer’s (tacky) sleeve, if not necessarily its crass music.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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