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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 91 – March 2012 – Looking at Censorship

I have to admit to being a little dismayed by the news that Paypal (at the insistence of the credit card companies and banks that process payments) has asked e-book publisher and distribution platform Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/about ) to remove “fiction that contains themes of bestiality, rape, incest and underage erotica.”

As Smashwords rightly point it – it’s “FICTION” and surely we as individuals have the right to choose whether we would read the material or not. It shouldn’t be up to the civil rights groups, banks, credit card companies or force Paypal to decide for us.

Now, we know this topic is going to cause a storm of debate as to whether these topics should be covered in fiction at all, or whether the banks etc have a right to say the material should be restricted – but isn’t it a matter of opinion?

As the Smashwords article pointed out

“If the PayPal restrictions were taken to the extreme, many mainstream classics including Nabokov’s Lolita or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with The Wind could technically be banned.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with its depiction of rape could be banned.  Even the Bible could fall under the net since it contains scenes of rape and incest.”

And what of books such as Lady Chatterly’s Lover or Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses – the latter earned the author a death threat – which I am not sure has actually been lifted.

For those of you who are interested this story, TechDirt, does a good job of summarizing the timeline of events and the issues involved:

I’m sure you like me, choose whether you want to read certain authors and topics. I also choose not to watch certain television programs such as “soaps” or movies that do not appeal to me – regardless of how they are reviewed. I consider it my right not to spend money or time on things I don’t want to, just as I have the absolute right over my tv’s remote control and off button. I’m not 6.

And just as importantly, as an author I consider it my absolute right to write what I want – and do.

So where do you draw the line?

Should we censor news stories that cover headless bodies found in canals – hacked to death by jealous brothers, or the many stories depicting acts of people in positions of power abusing the children in their care? Would the credit card companies refuse to take money for downloading these kinds of articles from the newspapers website archive?

The issues over censorship doesn’t stop there of course.

Some countries have some internet sites blocked completely. While Australia, India, England and a host of other countries are on the Enemies of the Internet List according to Reporters Without Borders.

The report says:

Reporters without Borders points to Labor’s ill-defined mandatory internet “filtering” policy, which hasn’t gone away, it’s just on the back burner.

The ALP’s National Platform — the document that defines party policy until it’s overturned at their national conference or Labor is voted out of office and a new government changes everything — still sets out in chapter 11 the entire policy, such that it is:

“Labor supports the National Classification Code, which classifies content against the standards of morality, decency and propriety accepted by reasonable adults. The principles of classification should apply on a platform neutral basis. Labor recognises the necessity of an independent and accountable review process for the list of URLs to be blocked by mandatory filtering. Labor believes mandatory ISP level filtering should be limited to Refused Classification content according to the National Classification Code. Labor does not support the introduction of mandatory ISP filtering that would lead to significant degradation of network speeds.”

Imagine you as a blogger fail to check who is posting comments. A link to something you would rather not be on the site is added. Someone complains to the watchdogs and then you wonder why your site has been blacklisted or worse still – your hosting company has been told to remove the site.

A little farfetched perhaps, but IF a site is added to Interpol’s black list – the entire domain is blacked out.

Consider the recent file sharing site Megaupload which was shut down by the FBI. Legitimate content was targeted alongside the not so legitimate content. According to a joint statement  by the US Department and the FBI Megaupload Limited and sister company Vestor Limited generated “more than $175 million in criminal proceeds” and caused “more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners” through the piracy of “numerous types of copyrighted works,”

Read more:

If that’s the case, then surely all the file sharing sites should be shut down including sites such as Scribd – which I know has copyrighted material illegally uploaded (because I found some) by people who have a copy and decide to share – rightly or wrongly.

Something tells me this issue is just going to get bigger.

Tell us your thoughts –

  • Should all file sharing sites be shut down?• Should website owners and / or hosting organisations be forced to remove content?
  • Should the credit card companies and banks have the right to stop Paypal from processing payments for legitimate purchases of fiction?

We look forward to the discussion

Lorraine