corpunWorld Corporal Punishment Research

Apologies for absence

Personal statement by Colin Farrell

I would like to apologise to all readers for the absence of this site from 20 September to 14 October 2002.

What happened came out of the blue and for me personally it has been quite traumatic, particularly since the website had been running for over six years -- almost a lifetime in Internet terms -- without any significant complaint or difficulty.

On 20 September I was abruptly informed by the then web hosting company, LOD Communications of Connecticut, that they had taken the site down on the advice of their lawyers. Up to that point LOD Communications had been hosting the site for several years and had never made any comment about its content. Their service had never been especially efficient or responsive, but they were cheap and seemed friendly enough.

I had to press them repeatedly before they would tell me any details about what the problem was. It turned out that they had been pestered by a member of the public who for no very good reason (more on this later) had taken exception to my website. As it happens, this person had previously been sending me abusive and ridiculous E-mails, which I had ignored because it was obvious from his messages that he was mentally ill.

Anyone in the public eye will be familiar with receiving such messages occasionally - the kind which in the days of snail mail would always be written in green ink with the key phrases underlined three times. Journalists and broadcasters get them all the time. You put them in the bin and get on with your life.

To be fair, that is initially what LOD Communications did as well. But unfortunately the complainant (who later turned out, when I did a bit of research on the web, to be a well-known troublemaker both on and off the internet) went to a higher level and somehow ended up with the US Customs Authority, which is responsible for "child pornography" issues.

Disgracefully, and astonishingly, the US Customs Authority appears to have looked at one or two photographs of spanked bare bottoms on the website completely out of context and decided that it must be a "fetish" website and that these pictures therefore constituted "child pornography".

Anyone who has spent more than 30 seconds on this website will know that this is simply preposterous. The pictures in question are all from entirely respectable mainstream media sources, and they are all presented here in the context of the perfectly serious articles with which they originally appeared.

For example, the picture which is probably the most gruesome -- it is hard to imagine anyone finding it at all erotic -- is the famous caned bottom from Court Lees Approved School in 1967. This was the crucial piece of evidence in the inquiry into the school, about which I wrote the article in question, which could not possibly be mistaken for anything but a serious effort by me to tell a serious story based on quotations from the official inquiry report and press cuttings of the time. I had spent several whole days researching these latter in dusty libraries -- not, I feel, something your average pornographer would bother to do. The photograph had been published in the London Sunday Times, in those days probably Britain's most respected serious newspaper.

How on earth can a picture published in a serious national newspaper 35 years ago possibly now be regarded as "child pornography"?

But the US Customs Service advised the web hosting company to take my website down, and taken down it was. I offered to remove the "offending" pictures and replace them with a statement as to why they were not there, but all further discussion was curtly refused.

So much for freedom of speech, and the much-vaunted First Amendment. I now realise that what "freedom of speech" actually means in the USA is "freedom of speech for those who can afford to hire expensive lawyers". I have written to the American Civil Liberties Union about this, but received no reply whatsoever.

I am not a US citizen and have never even been to America. However, any US citizens who feel that their constitutional right to free access to information has been damaged may like to take the matter up with the ACLU, their elected representatives, and the US Customs Service. The customs official responsible for the decision to destroy my website is a Mr Marcus Allen.

I am happy to report that this site is now hosted by Eurofficial Internet, based in the Netherlands. Unlike LOD Communications of Connecticut, they do not host "adult" sites. We shall see how it goes, but so far they have been exceedingly helpful. They have explicitly stated that they see nothing wrong with the photographs concerned and do not intend to be bullied by either assorted busybodies or overzealous bureaucrats.

There is a quite separate subsidiary issue: that of links from one website to another. What got our unhinged troublemaker going in the first place was a link from one of my external links pages to an alumni website for his former school (which shall remain nameless) because it happened to contain one or two interesting references to long-ago corporal punishment at the school in question. He also wrote to several other schools that I had linked to, drawing their attention to what he had by this time persuaded himself was the "sleazy" nature of my site. One of these duly wrote to ask that I remove the link concerned. I quote below part of my reply as I think it sets out the issue clearly:

As to the link from my website to yours: We seem to have a pretty fundamental misunderstanding here. By law, anyone can have a normal link to any public website, especially where there are no commercial considerations involved. The permission of the webmaster of the site being referred to is not required. It is equivalent to quoting a reference to a book and inviting the reader to look for it in the library. Your website is publicly accessible. Anyone might find it.

My having a link to it doesn't "associate" your school with me or my website in any way. It simply informs my readers of its existence, since I thought they might find it interesting, just as I might draw their attention to a relevant passage in a published book. They can see perfectly well, from the way the link is presented, that there is not the slightest suggestion that you have any involvement in my website, or vice versa.

Hyperlinks between websites have been integral to the whole philosophy of the world wide web since it started, and there has never been any presumption that such a link implies any association between sites so linked, or that the URL (web address) of a site is copyright (though of course the content of the site itself is).

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the WWW, has written: "Normal hypertext links do not of themselves imply that the document linked to is part of, is endorsed by, or endorses, or has related ownership or distribution terms as the document linked from ...... The intention in the design of the web was that normal links should simply be references, with no implied meaning. A normal hypertext link does NOT necessarily imply that one document endorses the other; or that one document is created by the same person as the other, or that one document is to be considered part of another."

It is true that there have been some lawsuits about links, mostly in the USA, and the results have been a mixed bag, but I think I am right in saying that these have all been arguments between commercial operators and have involved abstruse questions about "deep links", direct links to images, links to dynamically generated pages from data bases, abstraction of advertising revenue, and framed pages designed to make it appear that the page being linked to is part of the website being linked from when in fact it isn't. They have not involved ordinary plain links from one non-commercial page (without frames) to another, especially where the nature of the link is perfectly transparent.

Were I making money out of this, it might be a different matter. But as you can see for yourself, my website is entirely free to allcomers, carries no advertising, and offers nothing for sale. In fact I run it as a spare-time hobby and pay for the webspace out of my own pocket.

Although it really ought not to be necessary to spell it out to anyone who has the smallest grasp of how the internet works, the main pages containing external links will henceforth contain a prominent disclaimer notice emphasising that the existence of an external link does not imply any connection or involvement or approval, in either direction, between this website and the one being linked to.  Main menu page

Copyright Colin Farrell 2002
Page created October 2002