What Do I Have to Fear?

February 14, 2009

Pirating is bad; I get it.  At the time of the Napster dust up, like most everyone else, I was downloading some songs and sharing them with friends by using my brand new CD burner.  I even justified it for awhile with the weak rationale:  Hey, libraries loan copyrighted material to their “friends.”   What’s the difference?  I’m not selling CDs.  My conscience (and fear of being caught) got the better of me and I quit.


After reading through Chapters 10-12 of Dan Gillmore’s “We the Media,” my knees found a new reason to shake.  “You mean I could be SUED for something I write and publish on a blog?”  I thought the only people who paid any attention to words like slander and libel were wayward politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and $500-an-hour attorneys. I haven’t a clue what legally constitutes libel or slander.  Here’s a definition for all of the other naïve and uninformed people in the world:


Defamation is the issuance of a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm. Slander involves the making of defamatory statements by a transitory (non-fixed) representation, usually an oral (spoken) representation. Libel involves the making of defamatory statements in a printed or fixed medium, such as a magazine or newspaper.” 

When asked:  Can I Be Sued for Something I Put on the Internet?” the Media, Law and Research Center is quick to point out: 

“Yes.  The laws regarding defamation apply to Internet as they do to more traditional media.  However, federal law protects Internet service providers (ISPs) and other interactive computer services from many lawsuits.” 

I haven’t had time to digest all of the implications of this and evaluate my internet behavior accordingly, but it appears that our mothers were right:   we really do have to watch our mouths.  I plan to do some more homework on this to identify where First Amendment rights and laws regarding slander, libel and defamation intersect.      


Since it is paranoia day, here’s another topic that caught my eye.  The issue of the spectrum being “limitless” and the FCC being an unnecessary regulatory agency who appears to be focused on the wrong thing.  It brought to my mind the “Fairness Doctrine” and I wondered what that meant in terms of the internet.  Home work time.


There is a “fairness doctrine” mindset buried within the term “net neutrality.”  There have been a few voices raising the warning:


Former FCC Commissioner, Robert McDowell, had this to say last summer: 

The Fairness Doctrine has not been raised at the FCC, but the importance of this election is in part – has something to do with that…  So you know, this election, if it goes one way, we could see a re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine. There is a discussion of it in Congress. I think it won’t be called the Fairness Doctrine by folks who are promoting it. I think it will be called something else and I think it’ll be intertwined into the net neutrality debate.”


Although I might savor the prospect of moveon.org being required to post an equal amount of conservative material on their website and blog, but I’m smart enough to know that the flip side is that townhall.com would have to post liberal material on their sites as well. 


Although both sides relish the prospect of their opposition being forced to put forth contrary ideas on their sites (or on the radio, or on the TV), it would come down to the party (or ideology) in control of the government making the determination as to what is “fair” or “neutral.”   I’m dismayed that seemingly intelligent people would actually believe that there could be a way to accomplish the goal of “fairness” or “net neutrality.”  By the way, who is going to police this thing?  Only someone currently in power, spurred by an agenda, would propose such a policy.  Want to talk about the death of Free Speech.  My knees are shaking again.




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