Freedom of speech takes a step back in the UK
So this is quite a worry… a ‘clarification’ by an appeal judge (which therefore sets a precedent for future judgements) means that an ‘audience of one’ still counts as ‘publication’ of written material. i.e. if you are writing chat online that is being read by a single other person your words are considered a ‘publication’ for legal purposes - meaning they are covered by the Obscene Publications Act. So, in the UK, a dirty private sex chat with another consenting and happy individual opens you up for prosecution for publishing obscenity. More details of this are in this article.
For those not familiar with the UK law we have an Obscene Publications Act, which makes it illegal to publish material that will tend to “deprave or corrupt” (things like this blog, I guess). However, it should be pointed out that the act does not itself define what will ‘deprave and corrupt’, and it is left up to an individual jury to make a decision on an individual basis. Thankfully, in the past juries have tended to come down on the liberal, accepting, side of things (e.g. in this gay porn case some fairly hardcore stuff was found to be acceptable). But that doesn’t stop a prosecution being brought, and who knows who is going to be in a particular jury on a particular case.
This is not a good situation to start with. But this latest ruling is a hell of a lot worse. What it means is that a private chat with one other person can be held up to the same scrutiny as a published novel, magazine article or film. So if you’re in the UK and you happen to be enjoying a text based necro-beastial-snuff-torture fantasy with someone else who happens to like that kind of thing (using a private media where there is no chance of anyone else seeing it or being exposed to the particular delights of your twisted little ideas) you can theoretically be prosecuted on the same basis as if you had mass produced this material.
Now, personally I think it would be wrong to prosecute someone for mass producing these materials anyway - if it doesn’t hurt anyone, just disgusts people, what of it? Being offended isn’t that big a deal. But the idea that you can be prosecuted when it is done in complete private… that’s just hideous. Utterly hideous.
Again, thankfully British juries have tended not to want to prosecute. But that’s not the point here - being charged in the first place is terrible enough. Let alone the very, very important principle that what I write and say is my business and not that of the government.
And lest we forget, the UK also has a law banning extreme pornography. Which makes illegal pornography that depicts “an act which threatens or appears to threaten a person’s life.” So… erm… oops.
Usually, in the UK, as with most liberal countries I guess, we get by by mostly ignoring the changes to the law and the rules and just sort of assuming we’ll be left alone to do our own thing most of the time. The ‘it probably won’t happen to me’ attitude (which most people, in my experience, also apply to drugs). But these rulings are setting a tone, setting precidents, theoretically endangering us and those with opinions, feelings and interests similar to us. The chances of us as an individual being prosecuted are low, but the chances of one of us being prosecuted… well, that just goes up.
We have to do what we can to keep the pressure on to win freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to explore our kinks, fantasies, and desires. We wish to do things which are non-damaging but still unacceptable to the vast majority of people. We are pushing the envelope of ways to live, ways to think, ways to feel, ways to fuck, ways to form relationships and the visceral experiences of life. Travellers into extreme sensations, we will always remain demons to many, whilst knowing we are angels to others. We have to fight the prudish, fearful, conservative rulings of ignorant, small minded, control freaks.