LiveJournal users fight erotic 'Harry Potter' deletions

The service recently deleted at least two accounts housing drawings of imagined intimate encounters of popular fictional characters from the "Harry Potter" universe, and users cry foul.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:15 p.m. PST to clarify and elaborate upon some of the concerns raised by LiveJournal users.

LiveJournal users who patronize sex-themed Harry Potter fan art and fiction communities--and a host of other concerned users--are revolting a second time over account suspension notices they say are unpredictable and trample on their free-expression rights.

The most recent saga over user-generated Harry Potter artwork appears to have started late last week, when at least two users, "ponderosa121" and "elaboration," reported receiving notices from a LiveJournal abuse team member who informed them that their accounts had been "permanently suspended." (One user tracking the situation says an "undetermined" number of other Harry Potter artists have also been suspended in recent weeks, but we've yet to get official confirmation on that.)

The reason for the deletions? The users' journal entries contained "drawings depicting minors in explicit sexual situations," which represented a violation of LiveJournal's policies, according to copies of the letters posted by their recipients.

In ponderosa121's case, the offending image depicted an unclothed Harry Potter of ambiguous age receiving oral sex from sometimes-villain Severus Snape. The image posted by elaboration, who describes herself on an external site as a 21-year-old Atlanta sometimes-resident with a fondness for "zombies, pie and cold pizza," showed the twin brothers of Ron Weasley, Harry's good friend, in their own intimate moment. There were no ages listed in the fantasy images, however, so they could have been meant to depict the lads when they were 18 years old.

The uproar is reminiscent of an outcry around Memorial Day weekend, when thousands of users mobilized against LiveJournal parent company SixApart's deletion of about 500 journals of a seemingly similar nature. CEO Barak Berkowitz ultimately admitted the company had "really screwed this one up" and vowed to restore many communities deleted in an effort to wipe out allegedly inappropriate pedophilia-related chatter.

This time around, SixApart representatives have not responded to my repeated requests for comment on Monday. An official explanation has also yet to surface on LiveJournal's official news page, where the most recent entries have found their comments quotas maxed out by user gripes about the latest kerfuffle.

But one user miffed by the suspensions has posted what appears to be a copy of a response on Friday from a LiveJournal abuse team member who identified himself as Eric.

Although the content in question did not meet the legal definition of child pornography, "non-photographic content involving minors in sexual situations which does not contain serious artistic or literary merit is likely in violation of Federal obscenity laws, and is content LiveJournal has chosen not to host," he said in that message.

A team of LiveJournal moderators, employees and SixApart staff reviewed the images and "clearly did not see serious artistic value in content that simply displayed graphic sexual acts involving minors," Eric added.

The company also states in its Terms of Service that it "in its sole discretion, may terminate your password, journal, or account, and remove and discard any content within the Service, for any reason, including and without limitation, the lack of use, or if LiveJournal believes that you have violated or acted inconsistently with the letter or spirit of the TOS."

Those explanations hardly appeased some exasperated users, who alternately mocked or scolded that line of thinking. One user who goes by the name Guma Kawauso argued that by that logic, people could face journal shutdowns for posting images by the renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose common themes were flowers, portraits of famous people and nudes--which encountered charges of "pandering obscenity."

"'Obscenity' is the perfect tool to weed out everything that doesn't fit in a nice, clean, straight, male-dominated and preferably white world," charged a user named erestor.

"The policy makes LJ an unwelcoming environment for sexual expression and experimentation, which is a change; in the past, LJ has been a valuable environment for many groups who are expressing, experimenting with, or identifying as non-normative sexualities to speak free of constraints which are often backed by patriarchical [sic], racist, classist, or heterosexist behavioral norms," another user, who goes by the moniker "coffeeandink," wrote in a recent entry.

To make matters worse, some users have been complaining that a LiveJournal employee named Abe Hassan, who goes by the username burr86, has posted "mocking" statements about fandom communities, which they argue is unprofessional and deserves at least a reprimand.

While apparently on a much smaller scale, the latest episode has fanfic devotees once again encouraging livid LiveJournal users to switch to "clone" sites in protest and to register their discontent through feedback emails.

Update at 5:15 p.m. PST: Some readers have commented below that they're concerned this report doesn't reflect the breadth of concern from the LiveJournal community about these incidents.

Let the record reflect, then, that a number of users who wouldn't consider themselves Potter fans, per se, are fundamentally concerned about the way SixApart has handled these situations in recent months. They're taking issue with everything from its "customer service" practices to what concerned users argue is an unevenly enforced terms-of-service policy in the first place. Some said they're not so much concerned about what LiveJournal deems inappropriate as how the company goes about deciding that.

 

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