U.K. Internet watchdog backtracks on Wikipedia ban

The online encyclopedia's editing tools became inaccessible to Brits after the U.K.'s Internet censor took issue with a rock band's album cover.

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Wikipedia functionality has returned for Brits after the country's Internet watchdog reversed its decision to prevent users in that country from visiting a Wikipedia page containing an image of a naked child.

The Internet Watch Foundation had taken exception with a page dedicated to a 1976 album by rock band The Scorpions. The cover of that album--called Virgin Killer--includes the image of a prepubescent girl, which the group deemed a "potentially illegal indecent image," landing Wikipedia on the group's blacklist.

As a result, Internet service providers in the U.K. began filtering access to all pages of the online encyclopedia over the weekend.

The IWF announced in a statement Tuesday that it would reverse that decision after an appeal and presentation by the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia.

"The IWF board has today considered these findings and the contextual issues involved in this specific case, and--in the light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability--the decision has been taken to remove this Web page from our list," it said.

The group went on to acknowledge that its effort to prevent people from seeing the image actually resulted in the opposite effect, bringing more attention to the album cover worldwide.

"IWF's overriding objective is to minimize the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect," the watchdog group said. "We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users."

The Wikimedia Foundation applauded the Internet watchdog's "swift action," but noted that the episode emphasized the need for watchdog accountability.

"We recognize the good intentions of Internet watch groups, including their focus on blocking and discouraging illegal content," Mike Godwin, general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement. "Nevertheless, this incident underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the processes of the Internet Watch Foundation and similar bodies around the world."