The Harvard Law Review has censored a link to an image by the prominent photographer Nan Goldin, ostensibly because of concerns about child pornography. The image, “Klara and Eddy Belly Dancing,” shows two little girls cavorting, one of them nude. The link was included in an article by Marjorie Heins on censorship by private companies that offer social-media sites, web hosting, and browsing services.

Heins was invited to comment on a paper to be presented at a day-long symposium at Harvard Law School celebrating the 50th anniversary of a major Supreme Court First Amendment decision, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. At the conference, held in February, Heins delivered her comments, which were later to be published in the Law Review’s online Forum. An editor asked her to delete a reference to an incident in which a web hosting company expelled the National Coalition Against Censorship from its servers because of the presence of the Goldin photograph. The editor felt that a link to the image could be “troubling” to some readers. Heins declined to delete the reference, and reminded the editor that this was a symposium celebrating freedom of expression.

Subsequently, Heins was told by the editor-in-chief that the Review had consulted its outside counsel at the Boston law firm of Ropes and Gray, who advised against publishing the link. Despite the questionable nature of the legal advice, Heins agreed to delete the link while retaining her description of the incident. She added a note deploring the censorship of “a link to an innocent photograph by one of the country’s major artists” as “evidence of both the danger and the absurdity of confusing images of children’s bodies with child pornography.”

The Heins article is available here.

“Klara and Eddy Belly Dancing” can be found here – or just by Googling the title.

*This article previously appeared on the Free Expression Policy Project, which existed from 2000-2017.