Managers reclaim the sites

July 10, 1998

Two groups of activists have been told to remove their websites from a University of Westminster server, after vice-chancellor Geoffrey Copland saw a newspaper report that one of the sites had information about attacks on genetically modified crops.

"The vice-chancellor noticed in the Mail on Sunday that we were hosting some subversive eco-warriors," said Richard Barbrook, head of the university's hypermedia research centre (HRC). The article by Michael Paterson and Jason Lewis appeared in the newspaper on June 21. It alleged that Prince Charles's views on genetic engineering had been used as an excuse to step up a campaign of vandalism at agricultural research sites.

Asked to explain the decision, a university spokesperson said: "Neither of these sites is connected in any way with the university, so we felt that it is inappropriate that they should be posting on the university's website or server."

That could not have been said three years ago, when the sites were created as part of an industrial collaboration with Sony Music. HRC got the cash for its web server computer, and extensive practical experience for its students, by building a website for Jamiroquai, a Sony Music act.

A People magazine interview has since revealed singer Jason (Jay) Kay as an avid collector of fast vehicles, "the proud owner of a Lamborghini, two Mercedes, two BMWs, three Ferraris, an Aston Martin and a Ducati mini-motorcycle." At that time, however, the band's marketing plan included an "environmental" sheen. So the "J's Joint" site included pages from Earth First! - a loose network of people pursuing direct action on environmental issues. It also hosted Reclaim the Streets - a self-styled "disorganisation" which held its latest round of traffic-blocking street parties on June 6.

Last year Jamiroquai's promoters pulled out, but the site lingered. The music portion was removed after American racists squatted its abandoned "chat" facilities. The eco activists quietly carried on building extensive sites. Dr Barbrook was "very happy to have them on the server, because they added to our radical-chic credentials and helped recruit at least two students for next year".

Although the sites describe illegal actions, there has been no suggestion that their content breaks any law. HRC has promised the groups a grace period to arrange for web traffic to be redirected to their new homes. The fate of Marek Kohn's Race Gallery site on the HRC server, based on his respected book but with equally little formal connection to the university, remains to be decided.

University website policies are often more complex and restrictive than those of commercial Internet providers, making commercial sites attractive for academics and students in doubt or in a hurry. In May, Slade School art student Kai Tan was told that her hypertextual degree show could not be posted on to the Slade server and she was asked to withdraw her submission to the paper journal. "I thought this only happened back in Singapore," she said.

Her work deals angrily with sexual politics, using many swear-words. It gained her a first-class degree. But Susan Collins, head of electronic media, "imagined what would happen if I went through the procedures. Kai's site was enormous and I didn't have time to go through it for policy." So she posted it to her own spare space on a commercial Web server instead, and put a link on the Slade site.

Hypermedia Research Centre: www.hrc. wmin.ac.uk/. Earth First!: www.k2net. co.uk/ef/. Reclaim The Streets: www.gn. apc.org/rts/. The Slade School of Fine Art: www.ucl.ac.uk/slade/.

Kai Tan: www.carrots. demon.co.uk/

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