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From Ed Coll of Lihu’e
have been following with mild amusement the Napster controversy in all forms of
mass media and also read Rita De Silva’s “Napster fever reaches
Kaua`i” article as well as “A Napster perspective” by ST (GI,
4-A, 7-30-00). As far as I know nothing in the mass media has attempted to
address the crux of the matter, which is individual liberty and the right to
The federal judge wanted to shut Napster down because it
“created a monster”. What is that monster? The heart of the monster
is “peer to peer computing” the ability of people to share files
across the Internet. Peer to peer computing is also the heart of the Internet
itself. Napster’s “crime” was making peer to peer computing or file
sharing easier by facilitating the ability of peers to find each other and
share files, in this case files in the MP3 format. The basic right of humans to
share information (freely associate) amongst themselves is a basic freedom and
in fact the “heart” of the United States Constitution.
enforcement and corporations are of course opposed to any technology that
facilitates human interaction and want to censor the exchange of information
Someone may use the technology to commit a crime. Someone may use
it to cheat corporations out of their profits, (which is also a crime).
unasked question is – Just because some people may commit crimes and cheat
corporations out of their profits should we punish everyone, or in this case
kill the messenger for facilitating this activity?
Should we shut down the
U.S. Postal Service because some people use it for illegal activity or mail
fraud to cheat corporations? Should we allow law enforcement to open and
inspect everyone’s mail just in case some people are using the mail to commit a
crime? Perhaps we should make everyone use postcards so law enforcement can
read everyone’s mail. People using envelopes must have something to hide and
should be arrested immediately. What about the phone companies? Should we
allow law enforcement to monitor everyone’s calls in an effort to stop
lawbreakers, or perhaps make the possession of phones a crime because they
could be used for lawless activity?
Napster is no different than the U.S.
Postal Service or the phone companies. They merely transmit content. The
Postal Service, phone companies and Napster do not create the content. Why
should Napster (and all law abiding citizens) be punished by a denial of
service because criminals (in this case copyright violators) abuse the
Finally I must say something about anonymous speech which is
inextricably intertwined with this issue, and has been upheld by the U.S
Supreme Court in McIntyre v. Ohio Election Commission. Justice Stevens, writing
for six of the seven judges in the majority argued that the prohibition on
anonymous leaflets is a direct and impermissible regulation of the content of
speech. Further, advocates of unpopular causes are in particularly precarious
situations; as a result, their viewpoints are especially burdened by laws
restricting anonymous speech. Anonymity, Stevens forcefully concluded, “is
a shield from the tyranny of majority.” Without the possibility of
speaking anonymously, unpopular viewpoints may be silenced. Protecting
anonymity thereby “exemplifies the purpose behind . . . the First
Amendment, . . . to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation-and their
ideas from suppression-at the hand of an intolerant
Ironically the Garden Island which has a prohibition on
anonymous speech “Letters must be signed and include writers full
name.” (GI, Letter Policy, 5-A, 7-30-00) violated their own policy by
anonymously printing the article “A Napster perspective – by ST”.
The reason given for the violation of their own policy was that the writer
“prefers, for obvious reasons to remain anonymous”.
“obvious reason” for anonymity that the writer committed a criminal
act by violating copyright law? By publishing the letter anonymously is the
Garden Island indicating that the writer has something so valuable to say that
the Garden Island is willing to violate their own policy and publish it while
protecting this possible lawbreaker from the long arm of the law?
the Garden Island would give the same consideration to law-abiding citizens
whom because of their unpopular views or causes are afraid to write letters to
the Forum for fear of retaliation. This policy change would make for a much
livelier Forum. Diversity of ideas is the cornerstone of democracy. Please
consider changing instead of violation your letter policy.