Censorship V. Freedom Of Speech On The Internet Essay, Research Paper
The world of cyberspace is a fast developing new universe of information, this information can flow between two computers sitting next to each other just as easily as it can flow between countries or right around the world. In this world where the information kept on a disc can be more valuable to a company than the company itself, regulation and control of the flow of this information is very necessary.
The Internet soon after its creation became the world s central location for piracy, and it has an ever expanding amount of music, software, and documents that should not be there.
Another major area for regulation on the Internet is indecent material. There is currently a vast amount of pornography on the Internet; the major problem with the regulation of pictures is that they have no definite representation. Unlike a copyright document or a song, you can identify an infringement as the information in the document is exact, or you can hear when a song is a copy. However, what in a collection of pixels is considered indecent, and what is not. Different people, religions and countries have very different views on indecent material. In this world where physical boundaries are irrelevant, who should make the rules? The world of the Internet has no parallel elsewhere in our lives.
One of the current areas of major controversy is child pornography. At what stage does an innocent photo of a child become an indecent photo of a child. These kinds of debates will always exist, as it is purely a matter of opinion. There are a number of cases where parents have been arrested for taking photos of there own children, as the photos were considered to be pornographic.
Yet another more recent development on the net is the boom in online gambling. Gambling has been a controversial past time throughout a lot of the world for a long time, illegal in some places, regulated in others. Now on the physically liberated Internet how should the regulations be extended, and who should have control?
The second upset that online gambling has caused is the Tax laws, with concrete casinos and bookies being heavily taxed throughout the world, major controversy has risen for these tax free casinos floating round the wires of the world taking there trade.
In May 1999 there were already over 250 online casinos, and 139 bookies. It is predicted that by 2002 casinos and bookmakers online will bring in over $3 billion in annual revenue.
I consider the 2 main problems with regulating the Internet to be firstly the lack of physical boundaries as already mentioned, and the second to be its size. If not already the Internet will certainly soon be the biggest database of information on earth. No one can be sure of exactly how much information is on the Internet; however, one thing we can be sure of is that the vastness of the net will continue to expand at a phenomenal rate for the foreseeable future. The question is what information can you trust, what is legal, and where do you draw the line.
Another area where laws have been passed in the U.S. is so called cyber-squatting . This is where a person or company registers another person or companies name in bad faith. There have been a number of cases in the states since the Anti-cybersquatting Law was passed last year. In the case of Debevoise & Plimpton v Moore, Michael Moore was registering names of law and accounting firms, and then offering to sell these names to the companies for large sums of money, or else promote his own interests on the sites. Moore also worked as a private detective, and put adverts on these sites for his company Dig Dirt inc., therefore making profit out of other companies names.
Moore was charged with violating the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999. This is one aspect of the Internet where I agree that there should be a certain degree of control. However, there has also been a case, Sporty s Farm v. Sportsman s Market Inc. Surely both of these could register the domain name sportys.com, and if one had more right over the domain it would be Sporty s Farm as it is a more suitable domain name for the company. However as Sportsman s Market Inc. had been using the Sporty logo they managed to win the case. Sporty s Farm was accused of using the domain to make profits from another companies well known mark.
Censorship works on the basis that some ideas are dangerous, and therefore have to be suppressed. But should this be left for the individual to decide or regulatory bodies.
Sooner or later, in one way or another, the consumers (of pornography) want to live out the pornography further in three dimensions. Sooner or later, in one-way or another, they do. It makes them want to; when they believe they can, when they feel they can get away with it, they do.” – Catharine MacKinnon
This quote would suggest that people s thoughts have to be controlled as they can t control themselves. However, the other side of the argument says that fantasy provides a satisfying alternative to real thing. Men use pornography to relieve sexual pressure, not to build it up so they can commit rape. It is a well known fact that in countries where there is less stigma surrounding pornography, and it is more available there are less sex crimes committed.
“There are people online that are in your children’s bedrooms that are giving them ideas.” – Terry Rakolta
Here we have more arguments for censorship. The truth is that any parent, unless very liberal would not like the thought above quote. As a parent, having people you have never known or met, and people that have never been checked out by authorities communicating and influencing your children from a young age is a scary thought, however, the truth is the second your child is online, they are being influenced by a stranger, whether an honest internet site, or any other site. Very few of these people who post web pages have been through the checks and training of a teacher or TV presenter for instance.
“What scares conservatives to death about online communication is that it can give their kids a glimpse of the world outside the barbed wire and guard towers of the right-wing Christian Thought Police. Once they’ve peered beyond the gates, they might not want to come back.” – Bruce Mirken
Once there is control over who can post sites on the Internet, in my opinion the whole idea of the Internet, this vast cyber world where anyone can say anything, is destroyed, and replaced by just another censored TV channel giving their view of the world in their politically correct fashion.
Freedom of speech, a good idea or asking for trouble? The idea behind freedom of speech all sounds good in theory, but in practice it is one of the most controversial aspects of modern western society. Freedom of speech no longer seems to be freedom of speech, it is turning into a quote I remember being told many times as a child by my mother, If you don t have anything nice to say then don t say anything at all . These days it is freedom of speech, as long as it is politically correct, and not being too unkind about anyone.
Where the concept of freedom of speech starts to fall apart is where people start to tell untruths about companies, or other persons.
In a recent case earlier this year in this country, Godfrey v. Demon Internet Ltd., Demon were sued as a person impersonating Godfrey had left a number of squalid, obscene, and defamatory messages on the bulletin board. Unlike in the U.S. where the ISP s are not held liable for pages hosted by them, in this country the ISP s are considered to be publishers, and liable for what is posted on there websites. In my opinion the U.S. have got the right idea to a certain extent.
At the time of the incident Demon had over 90,000 subscribers. They could not honestly be expected to keep track of all information that these users were placing on the Internet. However, I do agree with the outcome of the case. When Godfrey discovered these messages he faxed Demon Internet on a number of occasions. Demon said it had no duty to remove the message. The first message was automatically taken off the board two weeks after it was posted. Another message then appeared, it was at this point that Godfrey filed an action against Demon for libel.
If someone insulted you in a pub, would you sue the pub owner for housing the defamatory remark? Demon spokesperson
This is a fair comment, however at the point when Godfrey asked for the messages to be removed it then turned to Demons problem, not Geofrey s. If you where being insulted in a pub and asked the owner to remove the offender, you would expect some action to be taken in one way or another. Demon had to weigh up freedom of speech against censorship, and in this situation I believe they made the wrong choice. If something is posted under somebody else s name, I believe that to be in a different category to freedom of speech. If people want freedom of speech, they should let themselves be heard, and accept any criticism about there comments. However, in this situation Godfrey could not defend himself against these remarks. This was not freedom of speech; this was someone having a joke at Godfrey s expense.
This requires ISPs and presumably portals to pull down libellous material after a warning. That sounds reasonable until you put yourself in the ISPs shoes. You get a call from someone who says he s the subject of a posting that is false and libellous. He tells you to take it down. What do you do? If you take it down without investigating and you re wrong, you ve censored someone. What s more, when word gets out, dubious claims of having been libelled will be filed routinely by private censorship fans. You ll be in the censorship business for keeps. If you leave the posting up without investigating, you re liable under Demon. If you investigate, you loose your profit margin. I think the Demon case could be a big issue. Stewart Baker of Steptoe & Johnson
ISPs have got to choose one side or the other of the freedom of speech argument, the problem is depending on your point of view, and the precise situation, neither route is likely to be a safe one for the ISPs. This is why I believe that ISPs shouldn t be held liable, as they are basically just being dragged into someone else s argument without really being involved. If someone phones you up and insults you, you don t sue your telecommunications company, they are just transferring the information from what party to another. Just as ISPs are hosting the information placed by there subscribers. The information has nothing to do with them; they are simply transmitting it.
Stepping out from the ISPs and into the more general concept of freedom of speech, to what extent should freedom of speech be allowed? Withholding any information, whether true or false, defamatory or complementary is censorship, and suppressing someone else s wish to reveal their thoughts. In the case on Godfrey v. Demon Internet ltd. impersonating someone else is in a different realm, if someone is not willing to be criticised for saying what they think, they should not be say it.
I m sure that there will never be a solution to the control and regulation of the Internet. It is too vast, diverse and interactive with the general public for there to ever be a solution that will solve the many problems that this world of wires and information poses. However, the one thing I do believe is that the level of censorship on the Internet will only increase. If not because of new laws, then because of the possibility of the repercussions than it could cause. I m sure this is a good thing in some ways; however, suppressing people s rights to share their thoughts is rarely a totally good thing.
What verdict will eventually be decided for Censorship v. Freedom Of Speech is unclear, however, one thing we can all be sure of is this is a case that will be going through the courts in many different shapes and forms for years to come.