film & video
overseas online censorship law
page explores overseas legislation, codes of practice,
enforcement measures such as hotlines, and major government
and industry initiatives.
It covers -
The controversial US Communications Decency Act
(CDA) was struck down by the Supreme Court in mid-1997,
the Court ruling that the legislation violated free speech.
US government approaches to online content regulation
have since then been in disarray. That's likely to continue,
following the mid-June 2000 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
decision against the Child Online Protection Act
(COPA) and litigation by the ACLU and others to test the
December 2000 Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
The Court disallowed COPA, noting that
of the peculiarly geography-free nature of cyberspace,
a 'community standards' test would essentially require
every Web communication to abide by the most restrictive
continues about ratings, filters and even a special "Children's
Libraries and other bodies are currently fighting the
CIPA Act, tied to federal Budget legislation and mandating
the use of filters by public libraries despite recurrent
official/private findings that the technology does not
perform as advertised. Consumer protection, it appears,
doesn't extend to the smut filtering business.
The Commission on Online Child Protection (COPA
Commission), a US federal government agency, was established
in 1998 in conjunction with COPA Act, to "identify
technological and other methods that will help reduce
access by minors to material that is harmful to minors
on the Internet".
The Act sought to prohibit sites from knowingly making
available to children material that is sexually explicit.
Commercial providers of such material may defend themselves
by restricting access to the sites, eg by using a credit-card
based subscription or an identity service such as AdultCheck.
The Commission survived initial challenges to the Act
and presented its final report
on 20 October. The report encompasses rating systems,
filters, age verification systems and a special 'X' domain. The
Commission held a number of hearings and called on experts
such as Lawrence Lessig in preparation of research papers.
Some of those papers are highlighted in the following
pages of this guide.
The regime in the UK is similar to that of Australia.
In the UK the Court of Appeal (in the 2002 R v Westgarth
Smith and Jayson) held that mere internet browsing of
web pages or opening of email containing indecent photographs
of children is an offence under the Protection of
Children Act 1978.
New Zealand online censorship is based on the Broadcasting
Act 1989 and the complementary Film, Videos and
Publications Classification Act 1993 (here),
administered by the Censorship Compliance Unit (CCU)
- formerly the Censorship Board - within the Department
of Internal Affairs and the Office of Film & Literature
A brief overview (PDF)
is available, with more detailed coverage on elsewhere
on this site. The Acts are complemented by other legislation
relating to imports/exports and other matters.
Around half of ISPs in the shaky isles subscribe to the
voluntary New Zealand Internet Code of Practice (CoP),
similar to that developed in Australia under the auspices
of the IIA. Official statements have tended to suggest
that "viewing" will be regarded as a significantly
lesser offence than "downloading" or publishing
This site features a history
of censorship in Australia and New Zealand, examining
the evolution of the regime from the 1850s onwards and
pointing to particular resources such as In the public
good? Censorship in New Zealand (Palmerston North:
Dunmore Press 1998) by Chris Watson & Roy Shuker.
Canada, on the other hand, despite a recent history of
book banning (eg Rushdie's Satanic Verses) and
public debate over proposals from Andrea Dworkin and Catherine
McKinnon, government agencies such as Industry Canada
have announced there's neither the will nor it seems the
need to develop discrete online censorship legislation.
An introduction to the Canadian regime is provided by
essays in Interpreting Censorship in Canada (Toronto:
Uni of Toronto Press 1999) edited by Klaus Petersen &
UK Internet Services Providers Association revised code
of practice is now available online; other overseas ISP
industry bodies have similar codes.
EU, US and other jurisdictions are increasingly underpinning
enforcement of online content management legislation by
supporting the establishment of hotlines for complaints
about illegal material. They are run by a range of organisations
- industry, users, child welfare and public bodies - and
have varying functions and procedures.
While their effectiveness is uncertain, advocates argue
that since the first was established in 1996 they have
resulted in detection of thousands of kiddie porn
images, which are removed or forwarded to police agencies
International co-operation between hotlines is growing,
especially through the work of the EU-based INHOPE
INHOPE's site provides a useful starting point for study
of hotlines, in particular through Nigel Williams' paper
The Contribution of Hotlines to Combatting Child Pornography
on the Internet. In Australia the federal government
has recently established an advisory service, NetAlert,
that includes a hotline.
major initiatives and community awareness
Globally the contentious nature of online censorship has
meant that most attention has focussed on child pornography.
The EU's European Action Plan for Safe Use of the Internet
is an attempt at a pan-European policy.
The IAP site identifies individual national and EC initiatives,
along with background documents. The January 1999 Paris
conference on The Sexual Abuse of Children, Child Pornography
and Paedophilia on the Internet was organised by UNESCO.
of the 1999 Vienna conference on Combating Child Pornography
on the Internet points to many a range of resources. The
Bertelsmann Foundation - owner of BMG and other parts
of the global Bertelsmann
media conglomerate - has sponsored a series of conferences
and studies on self-regulation and internet content rating
of Internet content, in particular the Munich Internet
of September 1999.
The US government's Cybercitizenship
site - "surf like a hero, not a zero" - joins
numerous private sector sites.