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Govt uses Obscenity Law to stuff up cartoon sex loophole

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The second area for concern is the way in which this proposal further embeds in English Law the idea that possession of various materials should, in and of itself, be an offence. The law follows the model of that on extreme porn, and possibly throws light on some of the thinking that went into that law. Once again, the government have preferred to reject the Obscene Publications Act definition of obscenity, preferring instead the phrase "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character". Pictures will need to be produced "for sexual purposes".

They were also clear, at the consultation stage, that imagery covered by this new offence is intended to sit, in terms of seriousness, above the level already covered by "indecency", but – according to the proposed penalties – below that covered by Obscene Publishing.

It is not clear whether this is because the OPA definition is too subjective or, as government lawyers have argued, because it would not make sense to apply the "deprave and corrupt" test to an individual who is self-evidently already thoroughly depraved.

The proposal omits any minimum standard of realism, almost certainly out of necessity: if we are to pass such legislation, we should seek to avoid interminable courtroom arguments about how real something appears. An image will therefore be treated as an image of a child where "the impression conveyed by the image is that the person shown is a child". We may have laughed when an Australian was convicted and fined for making indecent pictures of the Simpsons, but the same could soon be happening here.

The government have also come up with a definitive answer to the question of "how can one tell?". This Bill will cover images where "the predominant impression conveyed is that the person shown is a child despite the fact that some of the physical characteristics shown are not those of a child".

That could be bad news for inhabitants of some of the seedier reaches of Sadville, in which, despite policy warning against taking child avatars into "mature" play areas, it remains possible to have poseball sex with players who share several characteristics with children (or even cats, puppies or horses).

Ultimately, this is not trivial either as issue or proposal. The government recognised as much at the consultation stage, acknowledging that the criminalisation of wholly fictitious material was a serious step. Whether you are for or against this proposal, it deserves serious debate. ®

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