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Stifling free speech

There are so many weblogs writing about technology and Internet issues that I usually stick to my home ground of global affairs. But Dave Winer highlights two recent developments where our worlds collide. First, he singles out the bizarre decision of Google to delete a Norwegian site critical of Scientology because the Scientologists claim the site violates their copyright. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), ISPs can be held liable for copyright violations. Responding to the Scientologists claim absolves Google of any liability.

First, as Dave details, a Norwegian site is not subject to the provisions of an American law. Nor, it seems, does it contain much in the way of copyright violation. That’s disturbing enough. I’m equally perturbed by Google’s action. There’s a great tradition in both the US and Britain (I’m less familiar with other jurisdictions) of media sticking up for their right to publish. It can, of course, mean going to court to defend that right, and Google, a young, stretched company, may have quailed at the extremely deep pockets of the Scientologists. But there’s a very important principle that Google should have quickly understood needed defending. Google, run by Eric Schmidt who I believe has the global perspective to understand these issues (not true of all technology CEOs), should have told the Church of Scientology to get stuffed. I am certain that many, many supporters of free speech would have helped this action.

Dave also highlights a bill introduced in the US Senate to require all computers to incorporate digital rights management. As Dave, a profoundly good programmer, says, it’s reminiscent of when the Indiana state legislature tried to pass a law decreeing that pi equals three.

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