Cartoon justice: Man convicted for Simpsons porn

Here I go again, out of the frying pan and into a three-alarm fire.

An Australian man has been convicted of possessing child porn for having lewd images of The Simpsons on his hard drive. Alan John McEwan has been fined A$3000 and placed on two years' probation, but he could have been sent away for up to 10 years. Per the Sydney Morning Herald:

McEwan appealed the decision arguing that fictional cartoon characters could not be considered people as they "plainly and deliberately" departed from the human form.... But Justice Adams agreed with the magistrate, finding that while The Simpsons characters had hands with four fingers and their faces were "markedly and deliberately different to those of any possible human being", the mere fact that they were not realistic representations of human beings did not mean that they could not be considered people.

So I have a question for the judge. If The Simpsons are real people, and they were all “born” in April 1987, doesn't that make them 21 years old?

Personally, I think anyone who abuses kids should be locked up for life, with no chance of parole. People who sell pictures of abused kids should occupy the cell right next door. But a potential 10-year sentence simply for downloading a photo – or a lewd cartoon – seems a bit extreme. That's just my personal opinion, not necessarily that of any other person, human or animated.

John Murrell of Good Morning Silicon Valley puts the issue in perspective far better than I can.

Child pornography is not a subject that lends itself to nuanced discussion. Healthy people know it's sick stuff, perpetrated and peddled by scum, and it would be hard to get an argument against any measure that could effectively cut the traffic and reduce the damage. But all issues have edges, and it's there, where drawing distinctions starts to get uncomfortable, that taking a sledgehammer approach can make things messier than the front row at a Gallagher show.

The fact is, in addition to the human stuff, the Net is a pornocopia of cartoon filth. It's easy to find SpongeBob without his SquarePants, and Lilo not wearing a Stitch. Betty, Wilma and teen Bam Bam; Daphne, Velma, and Scooby Doo; all of the Griffins from Family Guy; if you can imagine it, you can find it.

This is very clearly a violation of copyrights. But is it really the same as porn? Is it as titillating or as damaging? Should it be treated the same way under the law? I'm no lawyer, but I don't think so.

It's a very difficult topic to write and talk about, and I'm already in enough hot water with some of my readers for other things I've said. But I think we've become overwhelmed by hysteria, and it's time to dial it back and look at this stuff from a rational perspective.

FYI, If you do decide to search for these images, be very careful. Criminal prosecutions in this area have hinged on evidence as slight as a thumbnail image found in someone's browser cache. But that's a blog for another day.

Mostly Dan Tynan stays out of trouble; the rest of the time he tends his blogs, Culture Crash and Tynan on Tech.

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