“When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws”. GK Chesterton
The small laws, the big laws, the rightful laws, the new laws, the old laws and so on; the wide list of law descriptive terms is endless! Yet, when it comes to freedom, especially over a loose medium such as the Internet, there is but one question one should ask: Are the laws unlawfully limiting the freedom of individuals using the Internet?
The answer is a definite YES!
Using the Law to Limit Cyber Freedom…
Hundreds of reported stories and news articles, dated back to the past 5 years and leading up to this day, demonstrate how the law has been negatively influencing our overall freedom of thought and expression. Furthermore, and in many cases, it was reported that the law was manipulated to sue individuals who might not even be involved in the alleged accusations in efforts to reap financial gains or shield big corporations!
I would like to ask you to accompany me through a list of stories I have found online, and which perfectly illustrate how our freedom is being constricted, slowly but surely, over the Internet and its channels:
1. Judge orders Google to deactivate Gmail account
August 12, 2009, a Gmail user mistakenly receives confidential financial information from “a bank”. September 24, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge James Ware orders Google to deactivate the user’s account!
WHY? On Aug. 12, the bank mistakenly sent names, addresses, social security numbers and loan information of more than 1,300 customers to a Gmail address. The bank then, realizing its mistake, asked the account holders to delete the e-mail. When they got no response from this poor user, they sued him!
WHAT? How could the judge deactivate the account of a completely innocent person to cover up a bank’s mistake?
2. Politics and the Italian Wikimedia
On September 15th, 2009, the Italian chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation was been sued for 20,000,000 € together with its former president, Frieda Brioschi.
WHY? The lawsuit was initiated by Antonio and Giampaolo Angelucci, allegedly because of some edits made to the Italian Wikipedia’s Antonio Angelucci article, which they claim were defamatory to the reputation of both men.
WHAT? Hmm, excuse me: Wikipedia is “a free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation”. Therefore, didn’t we all formerly agree that Wikipedia is a platform where anyone could add any piece of news, article or definition as a way to contributing to overall knowledge?
3. Music and the RIAA
RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, especially in the Lily Allen case. On several occasions, the RIAA seems to be have been taking on the role of the judge and the prosecutor whenever possible! For years now, it has been suing people left and right on different occasions and for various reasons, some of which simply promote limiting freedom over the Internet more than anything else!
WHY? Illegal file-swapping, file sharing and online infringements: The RIAA is fighting to keep those at a minimum.
WHAT? Though it is their right to do so, yet how much control can one have over online property? And can you sue everyone, eventually, for these violations?
4. Grandpa sued by the MPAA
Way back, on November 4th 2005, a 67 year old man was sued by the MPAA, Motion Picture Association of America, because his grandson downloaded 4 movies. Regardless of the fact that grandpa might have never used the Internet, or the PC for that matter, he can still get sued for $600,000 for “copyright infringement”.
WHY? The MPAA tracked the IP address of the movies that were downloaded and sued “grandpa” who was clueless of his grandson’s mischievous acts!
WHAT? Seems like MPAA is using this method as a new way of conducting its business and gathering funds! They sue people for a certain amount of money and wait for the settlement to end up with at least some amount of money!
5. Employees fired because of Facebook
Only this year, several people were fired due to Facebook: April 4th – a woman fired for using Facebook while sick, August 10th another was fired after rant on Facebook, and in March another was fired for adding “bored” as a Facebook status update… since when is the law on Facebook’s side?
WHY? Managers and employers can now get away with firing employees just for expressing their opinions about how they feel or through stalking what they do online in general!
WHAT? Isn’t there some kind of law to protect the freedom and privacy of employees? Who draws the line between freedom of thought and work conduct violations?
6. Landlord sues tenant for a Tweet
On September 16th, 2009, a landlord sues a tenant for an unseen Twitter post: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay,” Amanda Bonnen apparently wrote in her Twitter feed, May 12 at 9:08 a.m.
WHY? Jeffery Michael of Horizon supposedly stated: “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization”! According to him, such a tweet could ruin the project’s reputation. Therefore they sued Amanda for $50,000.
WHAT? Since when did Twitter become such a closely monitored medium where you can be punished and even sued for, again, expressing a simple opinion you have about something you do not like?
And There’s More to Come!
Taking into consideration the many different law abuses and manipulations we hear about every day, it seems that things will only start getting worse from here on, especially over such an uncontrolled and somewhat irregulated medium as the Internet.
To conclude this analysis, I’d like to urge you to leave your opinion below regarding this issue: Do you think there should be more or less freedom over the Internet? Do you agree that those people deserved to be sued? And finally, do you see lawsuits becoming a new trend rather than a necessity?