Google removes lolicon site from search results
Loliero doujinshi scanlation site Little White Butterflies observes (link is safe for work but the rest of the site is very much not) that it has been removed from Google search results following a complaint, filed by an unnamed party, that it was hosting child pornography. Google also reported the site to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children—a legal obligation for US content providers who become aware of child pornography. The removal can be easily verified by searching for “Little White Butterflies” on Google. The site itself doesn't show up, and a notice at the bottom of the page reads:
In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 7 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read more about the request at ChillingEffects.org.
The obvious problem with this course of action is that the targeted site was not hosting child pornography—or at least, that's what they say, but considering the material there, it is not difficult to see how this is very likely another case of sexual depictions of fictional children being misconstrued as child porn.
Since the Supreme Court ruling in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002), it is apparent that such fictional depictions are not child pornography under current US law (as defined under 18 U.S.C. § 2256; see in particular § 2256(11)). The PROTECT Act of 2003 has introduced separate provisions (Section 1466A) suggesting that such material might nonetheless be illegal to own or distribute in cases where it is additionally found to be obscene under the Miller test. There hasn't been a SCOTUS challenge of the remaining provisions yet, and since they seem to contradict Ashcroft v. ACLU, it remains dubious whether they are constitutional; but that's beside the point here.
The point is that Google applied a child porn procedure to material that was clearly not child porn (namely drawings). There is no legal requirement to “minimize access” to such content even if it is deemed in violation of Section 1466A: the requirement (§ 2258B(c)(1)) only applies to child pornography. Moreover, it is difficult to see how an independent determination can be made that Section 1466A applies, seeing as this requires judging the “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” of the material, as well as applying undefined community standards (i.e. § 2258A(a)(2)(B), which to my knowledge has never been the basis for a conviction, is probably void for vagueness).
It is not entirely surprising that a content provider receiving a child porn complaint would want to cover their legal arses and be done with it. But Google isn't just any content provider. It's a company committed to “not being evil” and not giving in to the curtailment of free speech in places like China. Now I'm not saying that erodoujinshi scanlators are comparable to political dissidents in an authoritarian country, and most of the material on their site is probably problematic on copyright grounds anyway, but the whole affair is still sad and disturbing. The slope from there is slippery indeed.
The folks at Little White Butterflies have apparently contacted Google to resolve this issue. Let's hope it works out soon, and if it doesn't, alerting people like the EFF, the ACLU or the CBLDF is probably in order.