Police in the United Kingdom have decided not to bring charges against the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, whose Web site provided a link to a controversial poem.
Britain's Royal Crown Prosecution Service said that no charge will be brought against the group following a complaint made to the police by a conservative religious leaders who oppose homosexuality in the church. The police followed up the complaint and began an investigation in 1996.
The case is one of several concerning linking on the Internet. Many governments worry about small sites linking to inappropriate material such as fascist literature and pornography; companies complain that links can violate copyright laws.
This complaint concerned a hyperlink from an informal LGCM Web page to a U.S. based Internet site which reprinted a poem by James Kirkup, "The love that dares to speak its name," which describes the love of a homosexual soldier for the dead Christ. The poem, originally published in the Gay News in 1976, is illegal in England. It was banned under English Blasphemy law, the only successful case of blasphemy since 1922.
"That the presence of a hypertext link leads to 'police knocking at the door' and an 18 month investigation, is astonishing," said Mark Vernon, who established the LGCM site. "We are delighted that common sense has prevailed at last in our case."
None of the individuals who filed the complaint could be reached for comment by press time.
The case raises an interesting question about hyperlinking, particularly in the United Kingdom. Unlike in the United States and western countries such as France and Italy, there is no express constitutional guarantee for freedom of speech in Britain because of the absence of a written constitution. The absence of constitutional protection in Britain means that freedom of speech exists where statutes or common law rules do not restrict it.
But the poem was not printed in England. The LGCM Web site-- now defunct for lack of funds--pointed its approximately 40 visitors a day to a U.S. Web site, which reprinted the poem along with other gay and lesbian resources, according to the group. A mirror site was set up in Denmark so that the poem could still be read.
"I personally think this is absurd as linking is not equal to publishing," Yaman Akdeniz, founder of civil liberties group, Cyber-Rights & Civil Liberties U.K. said today in an interview. "That poem by James Kirkup probably has no artistic value and I do not like it, but that does not mean that it has to be suppressed and banned and people who publish it be prosecuted. Thanks to the Internet this kind of attempts will hopefully stop. If not more and more mirrors will spawn and we will make sure everybody knows about them."
A recent U.K. case highlighted the successful use of mirror sites to spread material across the Internet.
Last month, British journalists broke the law by posting a banned government report detailing a child abuse case on their Web site. Although they were forced to take down the site after Britain's high court issued an injunction, overseas sites mirrored the report. There are currently 35 mirror sites of the report, according to Cyber-Rights & Civil Liberties U.K. The British government has no jurisdiction to go after non-English sites.
The LGCM case will not set a precedent for hyperlinking in the United Kingdom as the case did not go to court.