Child porn, cartoons and unintended consequences

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Everyone hates child porn, right? So, superficially, who could possibly object to government proposals to “help close a loophole that we believe paedophiles are using”?

The problem is twofold however. Firstly, what the government is planning to do is “create a new offence for the possession of non-photographic visual depictions of child sexual abuse.” From reading the consultation paper, this would appear to exclude the written word and apparently this will exclude any “items of genuine historical interest” – so that’s Romeo and Juliet and the Gospels saved then. But everything else is for the pot. Last time I looked that would include a lot of anime and manga.

Secondly, the Ministry of Justice’s “justification” for this is as follows:

We are unaware of any specific research into whether there is a link between accessing these fantasy images of child sexual abuse and the commission of offences against children, but it is felt by police and children’s welfare organisations that the possession and circulation of these images serves to legitimize and reinforce highly inappropriate views about children.

In other words, they have no grounds for doing this whatsoever and don’t even know whether it would be counter-productive (i.e. are paedophiles using visual representation of child abuse as a substitute for the real thing), but they are going to do it anyway.

This has bad law written all over it. This is an explicit attempt to legislate against thoughtcrime and “yuk”.

I mentioned manga above. Comics have regularly fallen foul existing obscene publications legislation and while such attempts often fail if contested the lack of money sloshing about in the industry (as opposed to, say, cinema) means that there is a tendency to play safe. All it would take is an over-zealous police chief to launch a couple of dawn raids on his local Borders with the active support of the Daily Mail and the whole industry would go into a tailspin. We’ve been here before.

The consultation paper also includes this section which, again superficially, sounds quite scary:

Technological advances mean that current software can allow a user to photograph an image (or download one onto a computer) and manipulate it to look like a drawing, a tracing, a painting or cartoon. It is possible to manipulate a real photograph (or video recording) of real child abuse into a cartoon or drawing format, be it still or animated. In that scenario the image/s would appear to be merely a fantasy cartoon or drawing, etc, but would in fact be a distinct record of an actual abusive and illegal act. Yet under current legislation, while possession of the original images of child sexual abuse would be illegal, it would not be illegal to make and possess these cartoon or “fantasy style” images, and they would not be subject to forfeiture by the police.

It may, in some circumstances, be possible for the police to re-engineer the resultant “fantasy style” image to discover the original indecent photograph. In this case a prosecution under POCA 1978 could follow. However, if the process was unavailable and the original indecent
photograph, or convertible data, remained undiscovered, i.e. if the “fantasy style” image had been forwarded on or simply printed as a hard copy, then it would not be possible to prosecute. In addition, the images would not be subject to forfeiture and would remain in circulation.

Note that this is carefully worded to NOT suggest that this has ever actually been done or even that police have come across material where this may have been done. And why would anyone do it? The purpose of filming pornographic images is to give the viewer a sense of reality. Making it look unreal to such an extent that it would be literally impossible to tell if it was real or a drawing would defeat the whole point of the enterprise. And if technology really did advance to such a stage (we’re talking about ever paedo having the skill and resources of Industrial Light and Magic at the click of a mouse key), why would anyone go to the risk of filming an actual act of child abuse when they could simply replicate it artificially.

The bottom line is we can’t legislate for every single hypothetical science fiction scenario. On the other hand, if we do legislate, we should perhaps consider what is going on, right now. Yet I can’t find anywhere in this consultation paper any reference to “second life”, “avatar”, “role play”, “virtual reality” or “MMORPG” despite the fairly obvious implications. Is every avatar in a school uniform going to be banned?

I want to hear a compelling argument backed by strong evidence, not rumour and speculation, before I will consider a law to be necessary. In lieu of I hope the Lib Dems in Parliament will give these proposals short shrift.

12 thoughts on “Child porn, cartoons and unintended consequences

  1. Its not a hypothetical science fiction scenario. Type “Cartoon Porn” into del.icio.us some of the first things that come up are images of adults having sex with children, even babies. It might be difficult to legislate between cartoons of the Simpsons involved in sex acts which might appear humorous and actual drawings of people in sex acts with children but someone should do it.

  2. Please do me the courtesy of actually reading what I write before attempting to rebut it. I’m not suggesting there is no such thing as “cartoon porn” – I’m suggesting there is no such thing as real porn that has been digitally manipulated to be indistinguishable from cartoon porn which is nonetheless used as if it was real porn, which is what the consultation paper is alleging “could” happen.

  3. Presumably, given the comments at the time about Lisa Simpson, this would make the 2012 Olympic logo illegal…

  4. Lennon – you make a compelling argument, sir. Perhaps it should be the subject of a test case?

  5. I wonder if this is designed to make the Lib Dems and perhaps other parties appear `soft on paedos` as a way to appease the core ex-Labour vote who have fled them? – I can see Hazel Blairs now stating `this is all to do with Labour’s fight against child porn – why won’t the other parties come and join us`.

  6. It might help to bear in mind that the law alrady puts “pseudo-photographs” on a par with phtotographs (whether digital or traditional film based).

    “Pseudo-photograph” is defined (Protection of Children Act 1978, section 7(7)) as “an image made by computer graphics or otherwise howsoever, which appears to be a photograph.”

    A simple cartoon is not currently illegal but a cartoon made to look like a photograph would alrady be illegal as a pseudo-photo. A pseudo-photo can also be where you splice two pictures together to make what appears to be a photo but if it is obvious that they are two pics put together it does not count. In the law as it stands, it is the appearance that counts.

  7. El Fat, I’m glad you don’t run the country. What an appalling basis on which to legislate. Are you seriously suggesting we should just ban whatever we don’t like “on principle,” even if they don’t actually do any harm?

  8. Manipulating an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child into a cartoon/drawing is already illegal.

    Section 69 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (2008) amended the Protection of Children Act (1978) to the effect that a cartoon or drawing derived from a (pseudo-)photograph is treated for all purposes as a (pseudo-)photograph.

    This proposal was probably just a pro-Labour “press release”, based on the incorrect assumption that the public will accept anything which is “anti-paedophile”.

  9. I took down part of my site because of things like this. And if they also outlaw things like such, over here in the USA, most of my stories will also be illegal.
    This would make an overnight criminal of me, and many others.
    I would never touch a real child, never ever.
    Over here our government proposing some of the same things. I really hope this won’t include Anime, Yaoi or anything that has suggestive titles, or art work of a suggestive nature.
    Unless I, or someone else were collecting real pics of kids. Then I understand such laws. Anime, and made up characters like Bart Simpson, who would be 31 if he was real. That I don’t see putting a ban on.
    How about Mickey & Donald’s nephews. Seen mane things like such.

    Anyway, I don’t support a law as ridiculous as making cartoon porn, and Anime illegal just because it just might portray children at times.
    The point is, if it’s something that’s made up, let it be.

    I find it very disturbing that both our government’s are trying to outlaw such things. Please someone keep me posted, because I took down my Elle to Takara section do to not knowing the legal status on it for sure. If they keep going the same direction however, I won’t have much of a website anymore.
    dlwstrausser@comcast.net Listing this, cause I want updated on this as often as possible.

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