I found the following today during my usual morning coffee + web browsing session:
Wayne Crookes, a former campaign manager of the Green Party of Canada, said he â€œsuffered an immense amount of frustration and emotional distressâ€ over postings on Google’s Blogspot.com, a free blog-hosting website, within an entry under his name in Wikipedia, and on openpolitics.ca, an interactive political forum set up by Michael Pilling, an Ontario and federal Green Party activist.
Mr. Crooke is, by my reading of it, basically frustrated and upset that anonymous people have been able to post defamatory (and presumably untrue) statements about him. Since he can’t find the anonymous people to sue (and since they probably don’t have any money anyway), he’s suing the various service providers who hosted their content.
The world wide web is founded on the premise of free speech. I can say whatever I want, and if you don’t like what I say you can post your own opposing opinion somewhere else. If I libel you in a legal sense, you can in theory send your lawyers after me…if you can figure out who I am. But anonymity is also pretty well established on the Internet. So that leaves suing the Internet service providers.
But validating opinions and determinations of “fact” versus “fiction” are decidedly *not* something the ISPs are equipped to deal with. Doing so would mean having full time legal teams working around the clock to review tens of thousands of posts: basically, it is totally inconceivable. And thus far, the courts have been pretty clear in their interpretation that free speech on the Internet is reasonably well protected.
In contrast, service providers like Google, or your local ISP, can and do respond to relatively clearly defined copyright violation notices. If you hold copy rights on something and I post something on the Internet using it, you can probably get it taken down very quickly by contacting whomever is hosting the content. These takedowns proceed without any real confirmation of actual copyright violation. The ISPs take the content down defensively, because right or wrong, proving copyright violation in court is expensive. And copyright issues have been clearly defined in court and in law, in the U.S. at least, via the DMCA.
Lawsuits like the ones being launched by Mr. Crooke that target ISPs for libel regarding content posted by their clients should send a chill through anyone who likes to think of the Internet as a true bastion of free speech. I’m not saying that libeling someone should be “protected”, but I think we and our legal system should definitely err on the side of permitting free discourse of opinions.
If, for example, a significant collection of case history was established showing that suing ISPs to take down “libellous” content was a successful strategy, I can guarantee that ISPs would start taking down content the same way they do for DMCA complaints. That is, before the complaint has been proven by law. So, if you said something I disagree with, I could send a letter to your ISP and poof- your thoughts would be gone from the Internet. If I was simply a jerk who didn’t like you I could do the same, and poof- your rights disappear because of the fear of litigation.
I sincerely hope that Mr. Crooke’s legal motions get tossed out of court with extreme prejudice. Not because I support libel or dislike Mr. Crooke (I have no idea who he is, and know absolutely nothing regarding what it is he’s upset about), but because I know how damaging a successful result for such a case could be. He and people like him are living in a happy fairy-land where somehow ISPs can determine instantaneously the difference between a legally protected opinion and a piece of libellous trash. Either that, or he and his legal team don’t give a flying fig about the rights of everyone to express their opinion.
In short, my opinion is this: people like Mr. Crooke and his entire legal team should be required, by law, to read and agree to an Internet usage license before they launch a browser. The Internet is a scary place, full of personal opinion dressed up as fact, despicable thoughts and images, and dangerous scams intended to trick you. It is also full of useful and wonderful things: it is up to the user to figure out the difference, and no one will babysit you. If you don’t “get” this, you should be permanently banned from use of the service. Good day and good riddance.