Arthur Kemp, the British National Party’s former foreign affairs spokesman and webmaster has forced several internet service providers (ISPs) to remove images of him apparently posing next to Nazi memorabilia from left wing and anti-fascist blogs. Kemp, originally from South Africa, claims the image is faked, and is being circulated maliciously by his ex-wife.
In his efforts to suppress the image, Kemp has employed a range of the tools available to the online censor, using takedown notices containing claims of copyright infringement and defamation.
Lots has been written here about the perniciousness of takedown notices. To put it simply: internet service providers have neither the time, the money, nor the inclination to fight or even investigate every single takedown request; they know that if they refuse to remove material, they may find themselves liable for the content and any breach of law involved in hosting the content. And much as we may think it should be, it is not the job of ISPs to defend free speech. It is their job to provide a service and make money. In one notable case study, Oxford University researchers set up sites containing text from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and then complained, in the guise of an independent organisation representing Mill’s estate, about copyright breach to the various ISPs hosting the sites. The UK-based ISP immediately complied with the takedown request.
Kemp’s claims do raise some questions. Firstly, he alleges that publication of the image breaches his copyright; he also claims that the photograph was taken (and subsequently altered) by a friend. In the UK at least, the copyright therefore belongs to his friend and not to Kemp.
Kemp, in his message to the host of blog Harry’s Place, claimed in addition that the image was defamatory. This brings up a fascinating political and legal question: is it actually defamatory to associate a former member of the fascist British National Party and the far-right South African Conservative Party with Nazism? And if so, why not sue the friend he claims created the image or the ex-wife he accuses of circulating it, rather than blogs that oppose his politics?
Kemp could, perhaps, in an effort to support his claim that the photo is merely Nazi-based larks among far-right friends, produce the original photograph. He has yet to do so.
But exoneration is not normally the issue in this type of case. It’s more about attempting to shut down debate and intimidate opponents with legalese.