I’m not talking about the Stop the War Coalition, but about a slightly worrying article in today’s Times about a “computer expert” with the unlikely name of Stafford Sven Tudor-Miles, who is facing a prison sentence for altering images of naked women to make them look like children. The article says that he “scanned photographs of adult porn stars into his computer and used sophisticated digital equipment to reduce the size of their breasts” and then manipulated them with graphics software so that the women were partially dressed in school uniforms with the result that they appeared to be pictures of girls aged under 18. Judge Peter Fox released him on conditional bail but said that he should “be prepared, at least, for a prison sentence”.
Obviously Stafford Sven’s behaviour oughtn’t to be encouraged, and I’d probably agree that it should be a crime. But given that it’s entirely victimless, I think I’d need some persuading before I agreed that it warrants a prison sentence. The Times adds:
The court was told that under the Protection of Children Act 1978, as amended by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, a pseudophotograph of a child is defined as an image, whether made by computer graphics or otherwise, which appears to be that of a child. Speaking after the hearing, Ray Savage, a forensic computer analyst for Cleveland Police, said it was unusual for a child porn case to feature doctored images. “I’ve seen it in only two previous cases,” he said. “To create an image of a child by altering an image of an adult is just as serious as downloading child porn, and probably more worrying in terms of the time taken and work involved to produce such images. In general terms, these images can be as crude as someone having pasted a cut-out of a child’s head on to an adult’s photo. At the other end of the scale, someone will use sophisticated computer image manipulation equipment to alter the size of the breasts and genitalia to make a very realistic image.”
You might not agree that creating an image of a child by altering an image of an adult is “just as serious” as downloading child porn, but it seems that legally speaking it is. Section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 makes it a criminal offence to take or permit to be taken, to distribute or show or to have in one’s possession indecent photographs of a child. In order to take account of advances in computer technology the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 then changed the wording of this so that it became illegal also to “take, or permit to be taken or to make, any indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child”. Section 7 of the Act added that “If the impression conveyed by a pseudo-photograph is that the person shown is a child, the pseudo-photograph shall be treated for all purposes of this Act as showing a child”, and that this also applied to a pseudo-photograph where “the predominant impression conveyed is that the person shown is a child notwithstanding that some of the physical characteristics shown are those of an adult”.
So it appears that if you make an indecent pseudo-photograph where only some of the physical characteristics are those of an adult, so long as the predominant impression conveyed was that it was a child, then it would be treated in law as a pseudo-photograph of a child, which would in turn be treated as a real photograph of a real child. I’m sure that both wouldn’t be sentenced in exactly the same way, and that a judge would be allowed to use his or her discretion to take account of the fact that in one case a real person had been abused and in one case no harm had been done to anyone. I hope so. There’s more about the legal stuff here.
The Times also adds that “Four years ago, a lorry driver from Rutland admitted eight specimen charges at Leicester Crown Court of making an indecent pseudo-photograph of a child and was fined £100 for each offence”, after taking photographs of local children and superimposing their faces on to the bodies of adults in explicit poses. Isn’t that worse than what Sven Stafford Sven Tudor-Miles did? And isn’t it slightly worrying that you can go to prison for assembling a group of pixels in a certain way?