Wired News
Monday, August 4, 1997

Nottingham v. Net: Game, Set, Match to Net

by Ashley Craddock, craddock@wired.com

Thwarted by the Net, the Nottinghamshire County Council has dropped its two-month-old attempt to quash the online publication of a report critical of a flawed government investigation into the United Kingdom's first case of alleged satanic ritual abuse.

"We have been faced with a technology running at a pace which exceeds the law's ability [...] to deal with it", said Tim Bell, chairman of the Nottinghamshire County Council. Bell added that although the council is dropping legal action against the three British journalists who first posted the Joint Enquiry Team Report, he still believed that "bringing the action was the right thing to do".

Penned in 1990 by the Nottingham social services and police departments, the report criticized investigators who unquestioningly and without any physical evidence accepted children's statements that their parents were broom-stick-riding witches who sacrificed babies. As copyright holder under British law, the council resisted pressure to release the team's findings.

So on 2 June, hoping to expose the flawed investigation, reporters Nick Anning, David Hebditch, and Margaret Jervis posted the previously unpublished report. As soon as the report went online, the Nottingham County Council again tried to quash it - to no avail. When they threatened to sue the three journalists for copyright infringement, the original site went down. And dozens of mirrors sprang up in its place.

Undaunted, the County Council began firing off letters to the administrators of overseas sites. But while Nottingham could at least temporarily strongarm its British netizens, it didn't have a prayer of extending its reach into other jurisdictions.

Indeed, when Case Western Reserve University Law professor Peter Junger received a letter demanding that he take his mirror site down or suffer the consequences, he virtually laughed in the Nottingham solicitor's face.

"My first reaction was simply to ignore this bit of silliness", he wrote in a letter declining to comply with the County Council's request. "[But] should you actually succeed in getting injunctive relief in the United Kingdom, that injunction would be quite unenforceable here in the United States."

In the end, the proliferation of mirror sites flummoxed the County Council so much that they withdrew their complaint. "The best interests of the Nottinghamshire people would not be served by running up large bills in difficult areas of law", said council chairman Bell.

Upon hearing of the Council's decision, Yaman Akdeniz of Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties (UK), the British organization that first launched the rally cry to seed cyberspace with mirrors, spun the decision as proof of the power of netizens. "It proved impossible to stop the publication of the JET report", he said in a statement. "The genie's out of the bottle. ... The global Internet does not recognize boundaries."


Copyright © 1997 by Wired Ventures Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.