A Few Words About Content Rating

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A Few Words About Content Rating

Post by photomaster »


Ok, that didn't work. In October of 1996, The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) responded to the US Government's C.O.P.A. (Child Online Protection Act) by introducing website content rating tags or PICS tags. This is akin to the V-Chip in your television - at least, here in the USA. If a web surfer (or parent of one) wishes to filter out language, violence, and/or nudity, all which needs be done is use the content filtering system which is built into Microsoft Internet Explorer. For the most part, the system has remained experimental for the past ten years.

Some controversy arose. The general consensus was that website content rating was subjective and could be used as a tool of censorship. Back in 1996, I disagreed. My philosophy is that, if you have your browser set to filter out nudity, then a) You are not a customer of mine and b) I would like to help you avoid images which you might deem to be objectionable. I placed PICS everywhere to help you avoid objectionable content on my website.

The vast majority of people do not use the content filtering in their browser, so it was of little consequence. Like the V-Chip, people didn't know and didn't want to know about this technology. No harm done. I have provided you with the mechanism to filter out nudity and you chose not use the technology.

Within the past year, the US government has been putting a lot of pressure on search engines to filter out "harmful" images, language, and ideas. The default setting for most search engines is now "Family Safe," which means you must a) Observe that your search results are being filtered, then b) Figure out how to disable the filter, then c) Enter your search terms again. I found that my website was not showing up in search engines because I had rated it for artistic nudity.

You, the web surfer, are not being given a choice to view "artistic nudity." My website was simply yanked out of the search engine results - government censorship via proxy. This was in conjunction with a federal legal precedent of placing all nude content behind a "click agreement" which makes you swear that you are of legal age to view such material. My website was being filtered from search engines and all my artistic nudes are now behind a curtain of shame.

Ah but - if there are no nude photographs on this website, then I don't need PICS tags. So, I yanked the PICS tags out. I'm actually happy with this development for several reasons. 1) Without using PICS tags, the search engines should begin to display my website in search results once again and 2) The website is completely neutral and non-offensive to just about everyone. If you want to see the nudes, then you need to click on the agreement. I also ask for a valid credit card number to view indecent images (free - no charge, but you still need a credit card number). This exceeds federal regulations.

But again the feds are pushing for additional legislation to make content rating mandatory. This will be done on the main entrance page - again, probably in an effort to remove the website from search engine listings so I'll be back to square one. The content rating will be approved by the Federal Trade Commission. This raises some questions, such as 1) Will artistic nudity be granted some special immunity from being grouped with all the adult pornographic websites (I doubt it will) 2) Do I need to put a rating tag on my website if I have already moved all the nude content behind a curtain? and 3) Can I put all the nude images on their own domain and just link to them so I can maintain an entirely non-nude "Family Friendly" website? e.g. what if all my images were hosted on the, now controversial, .xxx domain? Only my lawyer can answer these questions and I will need to pay him money for those answers.

While the feds are spending my tax dollars to force me into spending more money to maintain a website which costs me money, I've decided that PICS tags are pretty useless at this point. If surfers need to click on an agreement to view nude images then they do not need an invisible tag telling them that nude images will be displayed (they will be). Since parents are not using PICS tags, the tags only serve to keep the website out of the search engine listings. And, since the FTC will need to approve the new rating system, which I need to have reviewed by my legal counsel then I'll have to revamp the content rating scheme anyway; although, I fully expect the FTC to approve PICS tags since mechanisms already exist to read them.

While this is going on, I will be shooting more landscape photography - peaceful, serene images of beaches, lighthouses, and perhaps "still life." It's funny. The original concept for hbutz.com was to display my fine-art , black and white, female nude photographs. I never expected that I would have to fight so hard to preserve my right to do something which is granted in the http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution ... ights.html Constitution of the United States. These are the times in which we live.

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