By Mark O’Neill
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
In a test case which could have severe ramifications for free speech on the internet, a 35 year old man is being prosecuted under British obscenity laws for a story he allegedly wrote and published on the internet.
Darryn Walker did not enter a plea and was sent for trial in March next year after the prosecution decided to charge him under the “Obscene Publications Act 1959”. This is the first prosecution for written material under this law since 1991.
Walker allegedly wrote and published a story called Girls (Scream) Aloud – about pop group “Girls Aloud” – on the internet. The story describes in detail the kidnap, rape, mutilation and murder of the band members and ends with the sale of various body parts on eBay. The story was then published on the Usenet groups, in the “alt.sex” discussion groups, where it was seen by the Internet Watch Foundation, who alerted police.
The Obscene Publications Act has had a bit of a hit-and-miss legal history. It was used to try to get rid of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (we can see how THAT turned out) and after that, every attempt to get rid of objectionable books using the OPA was subsequently shot down by appeals courts. I heard at one point that the British Government was going to either get rid of the OPA or radically re-write it. But obviously nothing has come of that yet.
But now we have this totally ridiculous prosecution for publishing a story on the internet. Yes, the subject matter of the story is absolutely awful but nevertheless, everyone has a right to publish what they want online without being harassed or prosecuted. If Walker is convicted, this will set a chilling precedent. If acquitted, the right to free speech on the internet will be affirmed by the courts.