Censorship incidents on the web are more and more common, but it’s still rare when they happen to an anti-censorship organization like the NCAC.

Network Solutions, a company providing web services, has threatened to remove TheFileroom.org, an interactive archive of worldwide censorship cases administered by the National Coalition Against Censorship, unless a photograph of two naked children by Nan Goldin, contained on the site, is taken down.

Thefileroom.org was created in 1994 by Spanish-born artist Muntadas, and was one of the first Internet art projects. NCAC has been hosting and maintaining the site since 2000.

The Goldin photograph, entitled Klara And Edda Belly-Dancing (1998), which shows two naked girls laughing and playing, was included in the site in 2007, after the Elton John-owned photograph was seized by police in the UK at a gallery as part of a child pornography probe. The case was dropped.

The photograph had also been investigated in 2001 when it was part of another exhibition at the Saatchi gallery in London and was found not to be indecent. The image can be found in the monograph of Goldin’s works entitled The Devil’s Playground (Phaidon, 2003), has been offered for sale at Sotheby’s New York in 2002 and 2004, and has previously been exhibited in Houston, London, Madrid, New York, Portugal, Warsaw and Zurich. It is currently in an exhibition in Berlin.

In attempting to justify the take-down request, Network Solutions referred to its “acceptable use policy,” which prohibits the “Transmission, distribution, uploading, posting or storage of any material in violation of any applicable law or regulation is prohibited. This includes, … material that is obscene, defamatory, libelous, unlawful, harassing, abusive, threatening, harmful, vulgar, constitutes an illegal threat, violates export control laws, hate propaganda, fraudulent material or fraudulent activity, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable material of any kind or nature.”

When NCAC informed Network Solutions that the photograph is not obscene, a company associate responded “That’s your opinion.”  However, the photograph’s wide distribution and occasional review by legal authorities is clear evidence of its undisputed legality.  This arbitrary act to request the removal of an artwork, accompanied by a threat of the immediate deletion of thefileroom.org domain name from the Network Solutions registry, denying access to information about over a thousand censorship incidents, is a sinister sign of a growing trend where private web companies are becoming the new arbiters of what is moral or legal disregarding national or international free speech protections.

The incident comes in the midst of a host of government pressures on Internet intermediaries – service providers, hosts and domain name holders – to clamp down on a variety of Internet content. The removal of content by private companies without due process or even valid justification is a chilling development that threatens the future of an open Internet.