All published material is subject to the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA). Under this Act, it is a criminal offence to publish any article which is considered to be obscene; that is, an article, which, in the view of the court, tends to ‘deprave and corrupt’ a person who is likely to see, hear or read it. This is a flexible test which has been shown to apply to material at a lower threshold where children are likely to access it. The OPA applies equally to material published over the internet, including material made available through file-sharing programmes.
The Government, through the Home Secretary’s Task Force for Child Protection on the Internet, are also promoting the development of a BSI kitemark for computer safety software which will help parents and carers choose the most effective technical means of protecting children from unsuitable internet-based content and services, including those which prevent the use of file-sharing software. There is also to be new Safety Software Sub-Group of the Taskforce to encourage internet and software services to seek accreditation, encourage take-up of the software by parents, and to ensure a process for review and updating the standard if it proves effective.