Wikipedia Founder to FBI: “Wikipedia Hosts Child Porn”

wikipe-tan-schoolgirl-crop

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has reported the site to the FBI for knowingly distributing child pornography, pointing to the presence of lolicon illustrations as evidence of this.

Sanger, who withdrew from involvement with Wikipedia in 2002 in moderate acrimony and has since persisted in trying to develop a superior alternative, reported the site to FBI over lolicon imagery, calling this child pornography (links redacted at source):

I believe Wikimedia Commons, owned and hosted by the California-based Wikimedia Foundation, may be knowingly distributing child pornography.

The clearest instances I found (I did not want to look for long) are linked from [deleting link; it’s a category about pedophilia] and [link deleted; it’s a category about something called lolicon]. I don’t know if there is any more, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is–the content on the various Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons and various others, are truly vast.

You can see on [the history of the category page] that the page has existed for three years. Considering that Eric Moeller, a high-level Wikipedia manager, is well known for his views in defense of pedophilia, surely the existence of this page must have come to the attention of those with the legal responsibility for the Wikimedia projects.

In my non-lawyer’s opinion, it looks like this violates 18 USC §1466A(2)(A). Perhaps the defense of this will be that the depictions are exempted due to §1466A(2)(B), i.e., the Wikimedia Foundation may argue that the images have some artistic value. I guess that’s for you and maybe the courts to decide.

I don’t envy the FBI the task of regulating the seedy underside of the Internet, and I doubt this is very high on your list of priorities. But I want to be on the record stating that this is wrong and should be investigated.

It is clear he is unaware of the treacherous legal limbo lolicon imagery enjoys in the US, but thinks it should be illegal all the same.

Wikipedia’s top legal counsel Mike Godwin gives his claims short shrift:

As is commonly the case when non-lawyers attempt to invoke a statute without adequately researching the relevant law and legal categories, Sanger has confused and conflated a number of legal doctrines.

First, he has referred to “child pornography” while invoking 18 USC 1466A, which is not a child-pornography statute but an obscenity statute. The federal child-pornography statute is 18 USC 2252-2252A.

Second, he is apparently unfamiliar with the obscenity test provided by Miller v. California and its progeny, which emphasize the importance of community standards in defining what qualifies as obscenity.

(The federal statute he cites represents an effort by religious-right activists to develop a per-se obscenity standard independent of community standards, but that doctrine has yet to be blessed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it seems unlikely that the Court would overthrow the Miller obscenity doctrine in this way.)

Third, Sanger asserts that the Wikimedia Foundation is “knowingly” distributing child pornography.

Even if we substitute “obscenity” for “child pornography,” and even if we assume that the Wikimedia Foundation in some sense can be said to “know” that some material on the sites it hosts may be unlawful, Sanger’s comment is legally irrelevant, since the Communications Decency Act (47 USC 230) expressly bars hosting providers for liability for such content if it did not originate or develop the content, and further declares that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider [e.g. a user or subscriber who posts content].”

Federal obscenity and child-pornography statutes make similar distinctions.

He then goes on to suggest Sanger is in fact actionably slandering the Wikimedia Foundation and Erik Moeller:

The pattern of slipshod legal research and allegation in Sanger’s letter strikes me as convincing evidence that Sanger is reckless in how he chooses to accuse Wikimedia Foundation and Erik Moeller.

While I won’t analyze his letter in a way that would amount to republishing and re-emphasizing the defamation contained within it, I will say that I think any jury might reasonably infer that Sanger’s recklessness in posting his allegations, together with his clear intention to damage the reputation of an individual person, is the kind of thing that deserves compensation and ought to be deterred.

This exchange of fire continues in some detail, although Sanger is clearly uncomfortable discussing the subject there and elsewhere.

lolicon_sample

The actual article at fault seems to be the main lolicon article, which at present includes some tasteful art by noted Japanese Wikipedophile Kasuga, who also happens to be the designer responsible for the semi-official Wikipe-tan mascot.

In the discussion which allegedly prompted the accusations, Sanger argues for Wikipedia to banned from schools due to its “pornographic” and “illegal” content, to which he strongly objects.

He accuses Wikipedia of not doing enough to expunge or identify the material he objects to for censorship purposes, in no uncertain terms:

They should grow up and finally realize that they are part of the real world.

Naturally, he can’t resist plugging his own encyclopaedia as the alternative:

You should encourage people to work on a wiki encyclopedia project that needs fresh participants, is more responsible, and has a family-friendliness policy: Citizendium.

Sanger has long voiced concerns over Wikipedia’s failure to restrict contributions to non-anonymous “expert” sources, whom he views as the final arbiters of truth in any credible encyclopaedia. His own Citizendium (which he largely abandoned in 2009) thus largely restricts contributions to academics writing under their real names.

However, by its own admission the site only has 131 “approved” articles out of 13,470 in total, and remains essentially obscure. Quality is said to make for a lack of quantity, but a less than random examination of the content offered tends not to support this.

A quick comparison of the two sources reveals Citizendium’s pedophilia entry consists of a terse discussion of the subject as mental illness, with 3 references and 300 page views, whilst Wikipedia’s entry probably contains more than anyone would particularly want to know about every aspect of the term, with 90 references and a probably vast number of page views (it is the number one result in Google).

Whatever the legal merits of the case, the accusation itself resembles little more than a juvenile attempt by Sanger to smear Wikipedia with the label of being a paedophile haunt, born of sour grapes and with no valid legal basis – he in fact embodies the spirit of Wikipedia better than he realises.

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