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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The YouTube political video banned from UK viewers (but available elsewhere)

I don't know whether it's an outrage, or a storm in a teacup.

There's a video on YouTube that's been banned by the UK government, but is still available freely in many other countries.  There's no age restriction or content warning on the video when viewed from outside the UK.

Before viewing the banned 19-minute video I was 9/10 on my own scale of outrage, reserving the extra notch just in case there was something truly gruesome that deserved to be banned.

There wasn't, but there was also no obvious reason why the government had banned the video, leaving me more curious than outraged.

It was easy enough to get a foreign IP address and watch the video.  I won't tell you how, just in case there is some contempt of court issue relating to the video - I don't want to be locked up in some absurd Kafkaesque ruling at this particular time in my life.

It is however worth noting the futility of regional blocking, as it's so easy to get around - read my primer on web filtering and blocks

The video is footage of an attempt by a group of protesters in Birkenhead, Merseyside, to arrest a judge "under section 61 of the Magna Carta" on 7th March this year.  BBC News filed a brief report of the protest. Background to the anti-Council Tax protests by Roger Hayes of the British Constitution Group (BGC) that is behind the attempted court seizure was reported by the Daily Mail.

I spotted nothing particularly controversial in the video. An elderly man at the start appears to be calling for judges to be hung by a thin cord he waves, but this was clearly nothing more sinister than an agitated old man.  At least two arrests appear to have been made during the course of the video.

There is speculation that the video could have been removed under one or more sections of the Contempt of Court Act; possibly section 9 prohibiting recording of court proceedings (ht @bainesy1969), or other reasons related to any ongoing court proceedings of the protest itself; although this latter point would make it rather difficult for news coverage of any protest where public order arrests were made.

On the surface the headline could be "Political censorship of videos on YouTube".  Or it could just be part of the ongoing debate about whether free and open access to information on services like Twitter is a threat to justice (BBC).  Note: the US have no system of sub-judice preventing reporting on matters before the court.  I'd need to speak to someone more familiar with the US legal system to report on the problems this causes.

As a law-abiding commentator on rights issues I'm not inclined to re-share the banned video, but in the brief history of the internet it's been shown several times that attempts to suppress information have backfired spectacularly.

In fact before the internet, in 1984, the Frankie Goes to Hollywood hit Relax topped the charts for 5 weeks after it was banned from being played on Radio 1.  And in 1987, interest in a mediocre spy thriller Spy Catcher hit fever pitch after it was banned from publication in the UK but instead published in Australia and available via some mail-order book suppliers.

Coincidentally, you also can't watch Frankie Goes to Hollywood's hit Relax on YouTube in the UK, as it's been blocked on copyright grounds :-/



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Please don't link to copies of the banned video in the comments.

    Firstly, I can't afford a good lawyer.

    Secondly, and I know this sounds insincere, but I want to work within the law to comment on some of the important digital rights issues without getting embroiled in activism.


  3. In my expereience censorship by the authorities is usually to cover up criminal action or a politically damaging gaff by them.

    I am slightly left of centre so we balance out :-)

  4. Minor quibble: Spy Catcher wasn't a novel. It was an autobiography by Peter Wright, who had been shafted by the establishment, not given a promised pension, after a lifetime working for MI5. It's also worth a read.


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