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Cartoon smut law to make life sucky for Olympic organisers

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Government zeal in pursuing anyone suspected of harbouring paedophilic tendencies may shortly rebound – with unintended consequences for the 2012 Olympic logo.

Earlier this month, the Coroners & Justice Bill 2009 received the Royal Assent. This Act was another of those portmanteau pieces of legislation for which the current government is famous, mixing up new regulations on the holding of inquests, driving offences, provocation in murder cases and, crucially, a new law making it a criminal offence to be found in possession of an indecent cartoon image of a child.

The horror facing the unpopular Olympics logo is that this is a strict liability offence. If an image is indecent, or held to be so by a jury, it is no good the Olympic Committee claiming that it was not intended as such.

Regular readers will be aware of the controversy that surrounded the current logo since the day it was launched. Critics were not impressed by the £400,000 that had allegedly been shelled out to creative consultancy Wolff Olins to come up with the design. However, it was the logo’s perceived suggestiveness - with many sniggering that it appeared to show Lisa Simpson performing an act of fellatio - that excited internet controversy.

The Guardian reported this as common knowledge: even Wikipedia notes this as one criticism levelled against the logo.

A Facebook group asserting this similarity currently has almost 200,000 fans: Google variants on "Olympic logo" plus "Lisa Simpson", "fellatio", "blow job", etc and you will quickly turn up several thousand sites and articles which link those topics.

Is this going to cause problems?

The offence is modelled very closely on the law as passed against extreme porn last year, and prohibits the possession of any images that are pornographic, "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character" and which either focus "solely or principally on a child’s genitals or anal region", or portray a number of sexual acts, including intercourse, oral sex and masturbation which involve a child either directly or as by-stander.

For the purposes of this Act, an image is exactly that: an image. There are few defences to such a charge, although an individual may argue that they did not knowingly obtain the image, or that they did so for purposes of law enforcement.

Although this law is modelled closely on other laws, it is a radical extension of the principles that underpin them. Both the Protection of Children Act 1978 (pdf) and the Criminal Justice Act 2008 – which is where the extreme porn law is located – are based on the idea that real harm may be being done to those depicted.

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