From Ed Coll of Lihu’e

The Garden Island publishes readers’ comments — negative and positive— on its

news coverage and editorial policies.

From Ed Coll of Lihu’e

I

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

anonymous speech.

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.

Law

enforcement and corporations are of course opposed to any technology that

facilitates human interaction and want to censor the exchange of information

because:

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).

The

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

system?

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

society.”

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”.

Is the

“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?

I wish

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.

0 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.