This story is incredible. Saint Louis University is threatening a faculty member with copyright infringement claims for his decision to take a survey of his colleagues. It appears that the faculty and the administration have been battling with each other recently, leading to a "no confidence" vote by students and faculty of the University provost. In response, the Board of Trustees sent around a "climate survey" to faculty, staff and students -- but some had complained that the questions were not useful and only asked one question about the leadership of that provost, Lawrence Biondi. In response, some of the faculty designed their own "supplemental survey" for other faculty members that included more questions, specifically about Biondi's relationship with the faculty itself.
The Saint Louis University chapter of the American Association of University Professors responded to the board's surveys by attempting to devise its own "AAUP Supplemental Survey" for faculty members that would include specific questions about Father Biondi. Where the university's survey for faculty members asked how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement "The university appreciates the contributions of the faculty," the AAUP survey would, for example, ask how much respondents agreed with the statement "The president appears to respect and value the faculty."
However, the University is having none of this and has threatened the AAUP's President with claims of copyright infringement.
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article on March 27 mentioned the AAUP chapter's plan for a survey. The next day the chapter's president, Steven G. Harris, a professor of mathematics and computer science, received a letter from William R. Kauffman, the university's vice president and general counsel, telling him that the university's new surveys are copyrighted and any use of them would violate federal law.
Mr. Kauffman's letter said that anything derived from the university's surveys would likewise be regarded as a violation of the university's rights. "Any infringement," the letter said, "will be addressed by the university and could result in legal action" in which the university could seek injunctive relief, damages, and the recovery of any legal fees.
This is incredible on so many levels, none of which makes Saint Louis University look good. First, this is a clear case of using copyright to censor, rather than for any legitimate purpose of copyright (it's like the University needed the incentives of copyright to develop this survey). Second, the "supplemental survey" is clearly asking different questions, not the same questions. Third, it's difficult to see how basic survey questions would have enough creative element to qualify for copyright protection in the first place, and even in the rare cases where they did, it would be likely that the protection would be quite thin, and hardly likely to be infringed upon by a separate and different set of questions.
But, most importantly, if the University board was looking to suggest that the faculty was happy with the administration, it would appear that threatening a bogus copyright infringement lawsuit demonstrates the exact opposite message. Truly incredible.
Unfortunately, the chilling effects of the threat may be working in silencing the survey attempt:
"The issue," he said, "is not whether the university will prevail in such a suit but whether I would be forced to run up enormous legal bills to defend against such a suit."
Of course, given that the likely point of the supplemental survey was to highlight problems between the administration and the faculty, the threat of the lawsuit seems to have accomplished that goal already.
The Chronicle of Higher Education also notes that Saint Louis University has sued another professor over questionable copyright claims before, and even though that professor won, he still racked up $10,000 in legal bills. And yet, the maximalists tell us, there are no examples of copyright being used to stifle free speech...
Perhaps it's time we codified this, but it appears that for every horrible occurrence there will be an unequal, disproportionately large reaction to it. I humbly suggest we refer to this as Geigner's Law, because why the hell should Mike and Godwin be the only people with their name's attached to things? Regardless, it seems to me that this odd rule has been more greatly followed in the age of the internet. Terrorism got you down? Well, then obviously everyone should censor all things even remotely terrorist. A bunch of people lost their marbles and went on shooting rampages? Surely this means protected speech like videogames should face the consequences.
And, now that anyone remotely interested in college basketball had to spend Sunday evening figuring out how to get their previously eaten Easter dinner out of their carpeting thanks to Kevin Ware's disgustingly awful injury on live television, it's apparently time to call out any news outlet that showed the injury in the aftermath.
Don’t give me the Deadspin “Warning: Very Gross” alert either, as though that somehow absolves you from any sin; hell, the video embedded in that Deadspin post is stuck on a preview frame that pretty clearly shows Ware’s shin bone sticking through his leg. Even if you don’t want to watch the video, you don’t really have a choice.
Sites like The Big Lead may have one-upped even the freeze frame preview; by initially including a fully animated GIF on their immediate blog post about the injury before pulling that GIF in favor of just the reaction shot of the Louisville bench, TBL managed to not only generate thousands (and possibly tens of thousands) of hits, but then were able to play the high and mighty, “we’re not going to show that anymore” card a couple hours later – presumably after searches for “Kevin Ware Injury” had died down. It’s hypocrisy of the highest magnitude.
Look, let me be super clear here: the Ware injury footage is brutal. The guy's shin bone snapped in half and the angle of the shots show it with cookie-tossing clarity. In my opinion, you shouldn't watch it, unless you've ingested some kind of poison and you're looking to throw it up. I wouldn't even think of embedding the video here. It's that bad.
And that it's that bad is also my opinion. The simple fact of the matter is that sports is news, this injury is news, and the footage of it is news. We can argue all we want about whether that footage has value for the news consumer, and I'd argue it does as a matter of public inquiry, but that it's news cannot be doubted. There really is no argument to the contrary, as the article's author themselves note.
I don’t care that it’s “newsworthy” – write the story, and let the gawking onlookers go find the video for themselves.
Follow the two logical problems in these statements. First, don't show the footage, because everyone can already find it everywhere else. Surely calling on the media to censor themselves would never result in calls for similar censorship elsewhere, eventually disappearing this and perhaps even more newsworthy footage altogether. What could possibly go wrong? Secondly, if uncomfortable but newsworthy footage can be buried for something like sports under the notion that nobody should be getting "clicks" or money as a result of someone else's pain, does that also hold true for news items about war, gun-violence, murder, drugs, etc.?
The fact is that the original premise was right, just pointed at the wrong target. Yes, in the age of the internet, people have choices in how they consume the news. What that means is not that the media should self-censor upsetting footage. It means that anyone, like me, who wants the news without that footage can indeed get it elsewhere.
Well here's a story that might fit in with what our friend Ken White at Popehat generously refers to as the activity of censorious asshats. There's so much bad activity in this one story, it's almost difficult to know where to start -- so let's actually work backwards and reveal each new layer of censorious activity one step at a time. It begins with this: the blog, Scholarly Kitchen, from the Society of Scholarly Publishing, published a blog post this morning, saying that it had removed some posts from its site due to threatening letters from a lawyer representing Edwin Mellen Press, an academic publishing house. While I disagree (strongly) with Scholarly Kitchen's decision to remove those posts, they did at least publish the letters from the lawyer, Amanda R. Amendola, which we will republish here:
There is all sorts of wrongness here, but that only starts us down the rabbit hole. First of all, it's pretty weak that Scholarly Kitchen folded after receiving a mere legal letter, which doesn't even allege any actual law breaking. As the letter clearly states, they're just upset about what was written, but even they don't think that the original blog post reached the level of defamation. Instead, they just don't like it, and are promising that "we are putting you on notice that the moment Mr. Anderson publishes or provokes any statement about our company or authors that is the slightest bit defamatory, we will pursue legal action not only against him, but your organization as well." And Scholarly Kitchen folded and took down the posts. Nice job, Edwin Mellen Press for creating chilling effects on free speech. Also, claiming that if he publishes something that then provokes a defamatory statement that they can sue... well, that's a stretch.
Next up, this line is pure crap:
We are bringing this information to your attention because you are the publishers of both Ms. Hunt's statement and Mr. Anderson's blog. As such, you have a legal obligation to monitor these types of comments. In order to limit any damage from such events, we request the immediate removal of Ms. Hunt's comments from your blog.
With regards to Hunt's comments, in particular, Amendola is simply incorrect. Either she does not know about or simply chooses to ignore section 230 of the CDA and the piles upon piles upon piles of case law that make it clear that a blogger is not the publisher of user comments and has no legal obligation to monitor them. But, in either case, she's wrong. As for whether or not that applies to Mr. Anderson's blog post, that's at least a little fuzzy. It is possible that the blog post itself could lead to liability for the owner of the blog, but there are also numerous cases that involve people forwarding defamatory emails, in which the courts have found that doing so is protected by Section 230. Is publishing a guest blog post the same as forwarding an email? Seems like there would be a pretty strong argument for that, but either way, the argument does not matter here since Amendola has already admitted that they can't find anything defamatory in the original blog post by Anderson.
Of course, this made me curious. What was in that original blog post. While a cowardly Scholarly Kitchen had caved and taken down the post, Google cache still has it, at least for now. Since the text of it and the comments beneath it are critical to understanding all of this, I've saved the text as a PDF and embedded it here:
It quickly becomes clear that the threat letters are even more dubious than initially suggested. Anderson's post is directly about an interaction he had with Dr. Herbert Richardson, the owner of Edwin Mellen Press, in which Richardson was asking why Anderson -- the interim dean of the library at the University of Utah -- was purchasing fewer Edwin Mellen books. Anderson pointed out his reasons: that he wasn't impressed with the quality of the books and felt the prices were too high. He also turned down a proposed "gift" of books. The conversation moved on to a discussion about a librarian who had worked there before Anderson was there, named Dale Askey. And that's where it comes out that Richardson was upset about a blog post Askey had written years earlier about Edwin Mellen Press, which has since been removed but is available as a part of the lawsuit. Lawsuit? Yes, hold on, we're getting there.
Anyway, there's nothing in the post that I can see that's even close to defamatory. Anderson is telling his recollection of a conversation from a few months earlier, including a few statements of opinion about the quality and price of EMP's offerings (he's not impressed by either). And then he discusses the lawsuit -- which we'll get to (I promise). But first, there's the comments. Remember, according to Amendola, representing EMP, comments from Kristine Hunt were libelous. Here's the amazing thing about that comment though: it appears to actually be one of only two commenters in the whole thread that is at least mildly supportive of EMP! While she does make a few claims that could be seen as statements of fact, the point of her comment was actually to defend EMP in noting that there is room for publishers like EMP in the market. The thanks she get is to be threatened with a defamation lawsuit?
Also, there is one other "positive" comment in the thread, from a "Thomas Anthony Kelly." However, as other commenters have noted, nearly the identical comment from the same "Thomas Anthony Kelly" can be found on on a bunch of articles and blog posts about the Askey lawsuit (yes, we're still getting there), raising at least some suspicion about who is diligently posting an identical comment, supportive of EMP, on many stories about a defamation lawsuit filed by EMP.
Finally, on to that other lawsuit, which Richardson filed against Dale Askey and his current employer, McMaster University. You can see the details embedded below, but it includes Askey's original blog post that explains his own opinions of EMP (and which was written before he was employed by McMaster, even though EMP argues that McMaster is vicariously liable for Askey's statements). EMP is seeking $3 million -- which is an impressive sum in response to an experienced librarian basically stating publicly his opinion that they publish crappy books. While defamation law is definitely messier up in Canada, where the bar is much lower than it is in the US, it still seems pretty ridiculous to argue that the blog post was defamatory (and even that the post is "defamatory in its tone" -- a tone can be defamatory?).
Within the blog post in question, as attached to the lawsuit, EMP's lawyers "underline" the allegedly defamatory sentences, many of which appear to be clear statements of opinion. For example: "I find myself amazed at the durability of Mellen" or statements that are about his own actions and can't be defamatory at all. Example: "I made a snarky comment about Mellen on a mailing list." How is that defamatory? Furthermore, reading through the blog post and Askey's further comments, it also looks like many of the claimed "defamatory" statements about Mellen in the lawsuit are taken out of context.
For example, it says the claim that EMP is a "vanity press" is a defamatory statement. But, in the blog post, he actually writes: "No, they are not technically a vanity publisher..." And, even if he claimed they were, it's difficult to see how that would rise to the level of defamation. Also, pretty much all statements about quality are clearly statements of opinion.
Either way, as noted in the now deleted Anderson blog post, this particular lawsuit has generated quite a storm of publicity against Edwin Mellen Press. Inside Higher Ed wrote about the case, highlighting significant criticism for EMP's decision to sue, including from James Turk, the executive direction of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, who found the move to be "deeply concerning" and noted his concerns that it was an attempt to "silence Askey's exercise of academic freedom by legal action."
It should be noted, by the way, that it's not just "academic freedom" that's at stake here, but pure free speech. McMaster University has noted that it stands behind Askey and that it believes strongly in both academic freedom and individual freedom of speech. Meanwhile, the Association of Research Libraries and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries have both also put out a statement in support of Askey and against Edwin Mellen Press. Martha Reineke, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, even put together a petition asking EMP to drop the lawsuit.
Oh, and there's one other interesting tidbit in all of this: It's come out that Richardson did something similar 20 years ago, to disastrous results. As Anderson noted in his original blog post:
In 1993, Dr. Richardson brought a similar suit against Lingua Franca magazine in response to an article (not available online) by Warren St. John, titled "Vanity's Fare: How One Tiny Press Made $2.5 Million Selling Opuscules to Your University Library." Dr. Richardson lost that suit. In 1994, he was found guilty of gross misconduct by an academic tribunal and fired from his tenured position at the University of Toronto; his press subsequently published a book about the affair titled Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High-Achieving Professors.
So a similar effort two decades ago didn't work out that well. Though if you click through that link, the article from the Times Higher Education lists out a variety of other claimed misdeeds by Richardson -- whom they claim was the first tenured professor fired from the University of Toronto in 25 years. It says he was fired for "conflict of interest and the abuse of a four-month paid medical leave in 1993' when investigators found that he was engaged in outside activities.
Of course, he was able to continue building the publishing house. This time, however, with the internet broadcasting this story far and wide when the lawsuit was originally filed, along with this latest censorious move to shut down another critical blog post, it makes you wonder if any university library will ever want to buy EMP books again. His own actions are leading to much greater publicity over these questionable lawsuits and what clearly appear to be attempts to use the law and legal threats to silence criticism (even mild criticism).
In the end, there are so many wrong moves in this story, it's impossible to highlight the worst one. However, it's really disappointing to see a site like Scholarly Kitchen immediately cave on such a questionable threat. Furthermore, Amanda Amendola should know better than to send out threat letters on such a flimsy basis. But, at the core of this, it appears that Richardson has a history of reacting poorly to criticism. But, as we've pointed out over and over again, just because you don't like what someone says about you, it doesn't mean you get to sue.
The EFF has a blog post about a very troubling ruling in a Georgia state court that effectively orders the censoring of an anti-copyright trolling blog including user comments. The blog in question, ExtortionLetterInfo.com, is run by a guy named Matt Chan. He recently took up the cause of people who have been hit by copyright infringement demands from Linda Ellis, a poet who is somewhat infamous for going after lots of people, demanding payments after they posted her sappy poem "the Dash." She apparently threatens people (ridiculously) with the statutory maximum awards of $150,000 per infringement, but will "settle" for a mere $7,500 -- often going after non-profits, charities and churches who want to share the "positive message" of the poem. Yes, she demands $7,500 for posting her poem to a website.
Her actions have been written about and talked about in a wide variety of places online, and when ELI took up the issue, some of the comments got nasty. And apparently, some of the comments made on the ELI site did get pretty aggressive, which is unfortunate. As much as people dislike trolling behavior, there's simply no reason to ever go that far. However, even if the posts went too far, the judge went much further in ordering Chan to remove all mention of Ellis from his site, whether by him or any user.
Respondent is hereby ORDERED to remove all posts
relating to Ms. Ellis. Respondent is hereby enjoined and
restrained from doing or attempting to do, or threatening to do
any act constituting a violation of O.C.G.A- §§ 16-5-90 et seq.
and of harassing, interfering, or intimidating the Petitioner or
Petitioner's immediate family. Any future acts committed by the
Respondent towards the Petitioner which are in violation of this
statute and this Protective Order can amount to AGGRAVATED
STALKING, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-5-91, which is a felony. A
person convicted of Aggravated Stalking shall be punished by
imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years and
by a fine of not more than $10,000.00
As the EFF points out, this order goes way, way too far by violating a variety of existing laws and the First Amendment.
Removing "all posts relating to Ms. Ellis" is neither narrowly tailored nor the least restrictive means of addressing any true threats. It fails the First Amendment test because of the collateral damage: it will take down constitutionally-protected criticism of the copyright troll and her demands for money. For example, Ellis complained that "there were vile posts of blasphemy." While blasphemy is doubtless offensive to Ellis, it remains protected speech.
The Georgia Court's overreaching order against Chan also contradicts federal law because it holds a service provider to account for users' posts. Section 230 protects websites that host content posted by users, providing immunity for a website from state law claims (including criminal law) based on the publication of "information provided by another information content provider."
The court, incorrectly, insists that because Chan has the ability to remove posts, he is obligated to do so.
As the owner and operator of the site, Respondent has the ability
to remove posts in his capacity as the moderator. However,
Respondent chose not to remove posts that were personally
directed at Ms. Ellis and would cause a reasonable person to
fear for her safety. Because the Respondent's course of conduct
was directed at Ms. Ellis through the posted messages and
information relating to Ms. EIlis, and the conduct was intended (and in fact did) create fear and intimidation in the Petitioner.
Except, as the EFF reminds us, under section 230, there is no duty to remove content and no liability for failing to remove that content even if you can. In the famous Zeran case, the court clearly held:
[L]awsuits seeking to hold a service liable for its exercise of a publisher's traditional editorial functions – such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content – are barred. The purpose of this statutory immunity is not difficult to discern. Congress recognized the threat that tort-based lawsuits pose to freedom of speech in the new and burgeoning Internet medium.
As the EFF post notes, this does not mean that those who said illegal things are not liable, but "the responsibility lies with the speaker." Having the court issue such a broad order barring speech and pinning the blame on the site for statements of users goes beyond what the law allows.
The UK seems to have a rather interesting relationship with Twitter for some reason. For the purposes of this discussion, recall that UK police have demanded the deletion of photos from the microblogging site before, in some attempt to have the internet forget certain things happened. Also, keep handy the knowledge that, in the UK, you can apparently be jailed for acting like a jackass on Twitter.
With that in mind, it's ironic that acting like a jackass in government gets you a job as an MP. Such is the case, at least, with George Galloway, who is calling for a ban on Twitter nation-wide until the site agrees to fully cooperate with UK police in all of their many deluded demands.
Filing the motion named "Twitter and the detection of crime", the MP believes the social-networking site should defer to UK authorities or be sanctioned by the Government – those sanctions involving a ban on the service.
"Twitter is now a very widely used mode of social networking; is a US-based enterprise whose primary motivation is to maximise its profits; Twitter is now used for a variety of criminal activities including sending malicious communications," reads the filing.
Non-Brits like myself will recognize this tactic of wanting to ban services that don't bend over a barrel for local police, having seen it so many times with services like Craig's List. In the case of Twitter, the company already complies with police requests that are matters of life or death and does so voluntarily. What they don't allow is law enforcement to go on fishing expeditions in non-serious matters. Now, should you think that such petty action by UK LEOs is unlikely, please keep in your mind all the links provided above. Were I Twitter, I wouldn't want to open up that can of worms either.
Luckily, that prevailing opinion is that Mr. Galloway is simply trying to draw media attention to himself. The Parliament's own website concurs.
"Although there is very little prospect of EDMs being debated, many attract a great deal of public interest and frequently receive media coverage," claims the website, whilst summarising, "The majority will attract only one or two signatures."
Given Mr. Galloway's rather, ahem, colorful history, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by such a move on his part. That said, fear not, my dear Brits, Twitter will remain for now.
Employment in the public service involves certain restrictions. Public servants owe a duty of loyalty to their employer, the Government of Canada. This duty derives from the essential mission of the public service to help the duly elected government, under law, to serve the public interest and implement government policies and ministerial decisions. The duty of loyalty reflects the importance and necessity of having an impartial and effective public service in order to achieve this mission.
"A duty of loyalty to their employer, the Government of Canada": I think Stalin would have approved of that. Although there is a token invocation of "the importance and necessity of having an impartial and effective public service", it's clear that obedience to the ruling powers overrides any misguided desire to be impartial. That imposition of an overtly political line to everything librarians do in their jobs is bad enough, but it gets worse:
As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities. Public servants must therefore use caution when making public comments, expressing personal opinions or taking actions that could potentially damage LAC [Library and Archives Canada]'s reputation and/or public confidence in the public service and the Government of Canada. They must maintain awareness of their surroundings, their audience and how their words or actions could be interpreted (or misinterpreted).
"Maintain awareness of their surroundings" is a particularly fine Orwellian phrase that basically means: watch what you say, or else there will be trouble. Of course, one famously dangerous environment is the online world:
With the current proliferation of social media, public servants need to pay particular attention to their participation in these forums. For example, in a blog with access limited to certain friends, personal opinions about a new departmental or Government of Canada program intended to be expressed to a limited audience can, through no fault of the public servant, become public and the author identified. The public servant could be subject to disciplinary measures, as the simple act of limiting access to the blog does not negate a public servant's duty of loyalty to the elected government. Only authorized spokespersons can issue statements or make comments about LAC's position on a given subject. If you are asked for LAC's position, you must refer the inquiries, through your manager, to the authorized LACspokesperson.
Yes, you see, even that private little blog where you make a witty remark about the stupidity of some of Canada's glorious leaders could cause you to be subject to "disciplinary measures" (and please, do remember that parts of Canada are just as cold as Siberia....)
The allegation of "muzzling" came up at a session of the AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science] meeting to discuss the impact of a media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008.
The protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories.
Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview.
The Motion Picture Association is somewhat notorious for flipping out over every new technology and how it will, without doubt, mean death for them. Most famously, of course, the prediction that the VCR would be the "Boston Strangler" to the movie industry a mere six years before home video revenues outstripped box office revenues. However, this seems to be somewhat instinctual behavior. Everything new must automatically be classified as a threat, and the best response is to kill it outright. The latest version of this appears to be the threat of (gasp!) "cloud computing." At a get together in Hong Kong, in which the movie industry was supposed to be talking about "protecting the screen community in the cloud era" apparently there was the typical predictions of doom with little in the way of suggestions. But there were some. Frank Rittman, the SVP of the Motion Picture Association, explained that the cloud was evil and censorship was the answer:
The news was even worse from Frank Rittman, SVP of the Motion Picture Association, Asia Pacific, who stated that potential pirates have all the digital tools they need to make illegal media sharing more viral than ever. “Digital online technology has enabled new channels of delivery for entertainment media,” he said. “The cloud also represents a threat in that it facilitates piracy, and the pirates seem to have gotten into this space first.”
The answer to both problems, Rittman believes, is pushing for Internet Service Providers to block sites known to be troublemakers when it comes to Internet piracy. He pointed to examples of the practice in Europe, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea as models of how this has worked as a low-cost way of cutting down on piracy that has met with some success.
He also complains that Hong Kong won't pass a law like this because the process has been "hijacked by extremists." Well, that's one way of looking at it. The alternative way is that arguing that flat out censorship of entire sites because you have been too slow to adapt, is crazy talk and is significantly more extremist than anything anyone else has been arguing. If you want to go after direct infringement, go after that. But censorship of entire sites is going way too far. And, contrary to his claims, it has not "worked" nor has it "met with some success." It hasn't driven people back to paying for movies.
Really, Rittman's statements are an example of the problem. Here are people so focused on "stopping piracy" that they don't care about the consequences of their own actions on innovation, nor do they care about whether or not it helps their own bottom line.
Another day in which Google makes a move that leaves me scratching my head about what it's thinking. It has decided to remove Adblock Plus from the Google Play store arguing that it interferes "with another service or product in an unauthorized manner." Obviously, some will argue that of course Google is doing this to protect its own ad revenue, but it still surprises me. Google's entire premise was built on the idea of building advertising that was non-intrusive and non-annoying such that it created value for people. The whole reason that Adblock exists is to fight back against bad advertising. On top of that, Adblock is a very popular tool, in part because it helps stop annoying advertising. If anything Adblock represents a useful way of exposing information about when and why people find advertising annoying.
As we've argued before, even though things like Adblock directly mean less revenue for us, we don't begrudge anyone for choosing to use it. To us, it's just a sign that we're not doing a good enough job delivering what our community wants in a manner they want it. That's useful. It sometimes puts us in a difficult position, because we have to deal with advertisers who only seem to want banner ads that our audience doesn't like. But we should never take that out on our community, but rather the responsibility is on us to seek out ways to convince advertisers and sponsors to work with us in ways that benefit everyone, rather than intrude or annoy our audience. On that front, we've always found Adblock to be a useful tool.
While Google may not view it totally that way, in the past, Google has generally taken the position that what's best for the user is something that it will support, even if it's not directly the most beneficial thing for Google. Instead, it took the longer term view that doing what's right for the consumer would mean that consumers would stick with them and trust them. But blocking AdBlock goes against that very concept. It's a short term move and one that the EFF (with whom we agree) sees as simply a bad move for Google.
Part of the appeal of the Google Play store is the lack of Apple iOS style walls and gates. Putting up those gates in a way that goes against user's own interests just seems like a bad long term decision.
It's a very strange situation when a beneficiary of free speech call for limits on free speech, but that's exactly what happened recently in an editorial written by the publisher of a San Francisco community newspaper.
I got drawn into watching AMC's "The Walking Dead," a ghastly television program that revolves around a zombie apocalypse. The show is so full of stomach-twisting mutilations — bloody decapitations, disembowelments, and amputations — that while viewing it I had to set aside my usual habit of TV snacking. Once the season ended I ordered the compilation of comic books on which is was based — almost five inches of death pornography — and topped that off with a 330 page prequel-like novel. Over the course of a few weeks, I became a reading zombie, gorging on dark depictions of depravity, torture, and killings.
This doesn't sound all that unusual. People become fans of various cultural offerings all the time, and often immerse themselves in everything they can find related to it. But Moss feels it effected him negatively, something he clearly wasn't expecting.
I can't easily explain why I was attracted to this gloomy entertainment. But I do know that the gory consumption binge impacted me emotionally. Like the fictional characters I was following on pages and screens, I became more fearful, distrustful, and morose.
Well, the simple explanation would be that the subject matter itself is gory, gloomy and morose. Like anything else, entertainment should probably be enjoyed in moderation. But sometimes you just can't help yourself and you binge. And, like any other type of binging, it may be followed by regret. So far, still no problem... unless you're Stephen J. Moss and you feel someone else may find themselves walking a mile in your fearful, distrustful and morose shoes.
Occasionally viewing or reading a brutal or sexual scene seems largely harmless, at least for grown-ups. But saturating ourselves with any set of images seems likely to mold our minds along particular channels.
This is undoubtedly true. What Moss experienced is hardly truly obsessive behavior. He went into a dive and pulled out. Others may not recognize the dive until it's too late, or may be immersing themselves in brutality/sexuality for the dive itself. But this isn't a problem inherent in the content consumed. It's a problem with the person consuming, one that can be exacerbated by this imagery, but not one that can be created by this imagery. There's a rational approach to this subject, but Moss goes in another direction, questioning whether (subjectively) disturbing artistic efforts should be allowed to roam free.
I'm recovering from all that now, but the episode got me wondering how what we watch or read impacts us. We've long attached warning labels to shows and movies that have violent or sexual scenes. We used to censor or ban provocative books. Recent attempts have been made to regulate rap music and video games, lest they incite youth to aggressive acts. Liberals, libertarians, and secular intellectuals have typically dismissed such efforts as liberty-stifling government over-reach. Up until now I'd have agreed with them. But my immersion into the zombie milieu has prompted me to reconsider.
Ah, yes. The "logical" solution would be censorship. If something affects Stephen J. Moss negatively, we should consider stifling, stunting or outright banning artistic efforts like these for the good of those less enlightened than Stephen J. Moss. If it's possible for even one person to be turned into a bloodthirsty (but morose) zombie killer by binge viewing, than it's high time we started blocking off anything someone might find disturbing, provocative or aggressive. Only once we've turned the nation's creative output into a bland pastiche that allows us to emulate society's teens and "experience neither highs nor lows," will we truly be able to save the future of America. Or something.
There's a lot of advice that counteracts this sort of thinking, most of it usually delivered to special interest groups with overactive imaginations. If you don't like it, shut it off. If you think your kids might be negatively affected by it, don't let them have access it. But don't go off on tangents based on a personal experience and project your subjective feelings all over the rest of society.
Free speech doesn't stop when you, as an individual (or even as an overly-concerned special interest group), feel your morality or sensibilities are being trampled on. Toughen up. Move on. Express your concern but realize that a call for censorship isn't the answer. As Neil Gaiman stated, defending speech you don't like is at least as important (if not more) as defending the stuff you do approve of.
Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.
You'd think someone running a community paper might realize how problematic a call for censorship of unpleasant speech might be. Or at least see how calling for censorship of other media forms might make them look a tad hypocritical. But this sort of clear thinking is often pushed aside by disturbing personal experiences, resulting in regrettable calls for action. (See also: nearly every piece of legislation crafted in the wake of a tragedy.) Moss' editorial isn't the most dismaying call for censorship I've seen, but his position and where it appears makes it notable. He should know better.
Next week in Strasbourg, probably on Tuesday, the European Parliament will be voting on a Report on eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU. To promote gender equality and eliminating gender stereotypes are of course very laudable goals, so my guess would be that unless something happens, the report will be approved by the parliament, possibly by a very large majority.
That would be a good thing, were it not for the following detail:
Article 17 of the report says (with emphasis added):
17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism;
There's no definition of "the media", but it's hard to believe that the digital world would somehow be exempt. Of course, banning pornography in this way simply won't work, but it will cause huge collateral damage to freedom of speech online in the EU. As if that weren't bad enough, the way the report wants this put into effect is deeply problematic too:
the resolution we will be voting on next week has other things to say about the internet. Article 14 reads (again with my highlighting):
14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere;
This is quite clearly yet another attempt to get the internet service providers to start policing what citizens do on the internet, not by legislation, but by "self-regulation". This is something we have seen before in a number of different proposals, and which is one of the big threats against information freedom in our society.
This is another example of "voluntary" measures that will in fact by compulsory, since any ISP that refuses to implement them will doubtless find itself responsible instead. As we've noted before, this allows all kinds of dangerous ideas to be implemented in ways that are not subject to judicial review or even challenge.
It's important to note that this is not a law as such, but a report, as Engström explains:
This means that it does not automatically become law even if it is adopted, but is just a way for the European parliament to express its opinion.
But the purpose of these own initiative reports are to serve as the basis for the Commission when it decides to present legislative proposals to the parliament. If this own initiative report is adopted by the parliament, it will strengthen the Commission's position if and when it wants to propose various"self-regulation" schemes in the future.
around noon, these mails suddenly stopped arriving. When we started investigating why this happened so suddenly, we soon found out:
The IT department of the European Parliament is blocking the delivery of the emails on this issue, after some members of the parliament complained about getting emails from citizens.
This is exactly what happened with ACTA, when the Parliamentary authorities decided that all emails on the subject would go straight into the spam folder. It's extraordinary to see how quickly politicians forget that hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to defend their online rights back then, and how unceremoniously dumping their emails in the spam folder only made things worse.
Discussions have been taking place on Twitter around the hashtag #mepblock (disclosure: I've been part of these), and an e-petition has been created, calling on European politicians to drop their censorship and to listen to their constituents as they are supposed to, instead of just ignoring them. There are still a few days before the vote next week, so there's plenty of time for further developments in what looks like becoming an increasingly heated debate.
Rikuo: long story short, guy is wrongly named as a taxi far evader in a video, and the judge orders it deleted WORLDWIDE from all sites to be more accurate, he was named in the comments, not the video itself dennis deems: Jay, thanks for that reminder Christopher Best: Andrew Stack was not a member of the Tea Party movement. He was a disturbed individual, and a disgruntled software developer. There's explicit tax law that treats software developers very unfairly if they try to work as independent contractors... yaga: that's very true CB Alana: AJ Seriously just compared arguments against copyright infringment to rape. ... Yeah, nobody should take him seriously at this point. err, against copyright* silverscarcat: seriously? Jay: Glenn Beck asking for a 9/12 movement isn't the least bit suspicious? Along with all of the other issues with the IRS right now? Ninja: I am honestly amused that the community is marking the comments of that "horse" guy as funny silverscarcat: Who takes Glenn Beck seriously? Jeff: did the 'new' comment color bars go away? dennis deems: ya I hadn't noticed until you said that. I don't recall seeing them the last couple days. Mike Masnick: new color bars ran into some big technical problems. :) we took them down while we fix them. fix is currently going through testing and should be back (and better than before) soon. dennis deems: yay! the color bars rule! Jeff: whew! Thought I was going... wait for it... "Color Blind" thanks! I'll be here all day... :-) Jay: @ssc I'm talking more in 2011 at the peak of TP hysteria