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Topic: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

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  1. #1
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    The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Gone are the Wild West days of the wide open forums where people could do anything they darn well pleased. A flurry of recent court cases (including yesterday's US Supreme court ruling), pending legislation, explosive forum growth and voluntary changes in forum policies are imposing law and order in a formerly free-for-all environment.

    I recently read an interesting PC Magazine article by the legendary columnist John C. Dvorak entitled "The Miserable End of the Open Forum". This got me thinking about the changes witnessed in the various forums I visit.

    Dvorak discussed recent court cases and the effect that it has had on forums. He writes: "Over the years, open forums in the U.S. and elsewhere have been fairly wild and amazingly open. The courts have long since determined that something such as a computer forum or bulletin board has a kind of Hyde Park Corner status where people can say and do what they want, and the host of the forum has no legal responsibility to police these folks. With several recent cases ... combined with the looming influence of foreign jurisdictions, I cannot see this sort of freedom lasting much longer."

    Dvorak discussed legal cases against Yahoo! and sees a progression of lawsuits. He writes “it should turn out that the rationale for a judgment against Yahoo! can be used as a rationale for other actions against the company. That should be followed by actions against all the open forums where libelous commentary is rampant. Watch each domino fall. You can also be certain that as this dam begins to break". Faced with these legal implications, Yahoo has recently closed many of its chat rooms.

    There are also international law implications. Dvorak writes “The internationalization of the Internet and the Web mean that American laws do not apply. Do you know that calling someone a monopolist in Canada, for example, is libelous? This is because being a monopolist in Canada is a crime, and you generally slander someone when you call them a criminal (unless they've been convicted, of course). Comparison advertising is illegal in many countries, and Web sites do it all the time. None of this is going to last as we spiral down to the lowest common denominator." [Northern Sound is based in Canada and I imagine the admins will find this interesting.]

    We are seeing a growing body of laws emerging that will govern conduct on forums. Recently Apple has won a round of lawsuits against bloggers who posted trade secrets and that free speech and journalistic privilege was no defense. Today the US Supreme Court held that Internet file-sharing services will be held responsible for swapping music illegally. Justice David H. Souter wrote "We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by the clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties". This ruling may have implications for forums and chat rooms that either promote or turn a blind-eye to illegal trading. There is also proposed/pending legislation as new laws are being drawn dealing with cyber postings.

    In keeping with the legal evolution, administrators have become the new sheriffs in the cyber-community. With the Wild West, as people started settling the wide open spaces, very little government involvement was needed. The community was small enough enough that unwritten codes of conduct governed behavior usually enforced within the community.

    Online forums have been experiencing explosive growth and as many more people began moving to online communities, more interactions create inevitable conflict. To avoid increasing conflicts, Administrators impose more self regulation. Administrators in almost all forums are no longer tolerating difficult people and are running the bad guys out of town. This seem necessary in running a forum and to prevent theft, harm to others or from ruining an otherwise civil experience for the vast majority of citizens. Instead of the latest pistol or revolver, the new sheriffs use the latest technologies which provide admins with the ability to "see" behind proxies and multiple aliases. All forums seem to delete posts or ban (or temporarily suspend) disruptive outlaws. Sometimes a renegade Billy the Kids seem intent on challenging the sheriff and some who participated in the once wide-open forum bemoan the loss of what once was as they move to new territories.

    Like with the Wild West, businesses moved in and they had to be regulated. Commerce often needs predictability and orderliness to thrive. With so many getting into the sampling industry, administrators must come up with rules governing commerce on their forums. There was hardly a forum that permitted us to post about a group buy with no restrictions. Musicplayer.com, KvR, Sonikmatter, FutureProducers, GANG, Sweetwater, HarmonyCentral, Sweetwater, LogicUsers, Cubase, Cakewalk, ProTools, Daw-mac, and many more - all had stringent restrictions for commercial posts. Many outright forbid it and some place various restrictions and some had "unwritten rules". I found out that almost all of the forums have rules and it is best to contact the local sheriff (admin) first before posting commercial announcements.

    What does columnist John Dvorak foresee with forums? Her write: "I expect a slow death to nonmoderated wide-open forums and open public commentary, as the courts finally realize that [forums are] commercial publishers with the responsibilities of publishers...the tendency will be to track down the worst offenders. Personally, I think it's long overdue. The current mess has encouraged laziness and accomplished nothing positive."
    It took the US Cavalry some 50 years to tame the US Wild West and bring law and order. Much if it ruthless.

    The nature of forums is changing. Although we will see a divergence of opinion here, we may be witnessing a maturing and a settling down. Like the Wild West, we are beginning to see order and civility brought to many forums.

    Forum owners are faced with increasing liability. With converging factors such as recent court rulings, pending legislation, international issues, explosive growth, increased commerce and voluntary actions by sheriff administrators, it seems like the wild forums are being tamed. It will be interesting to see what happens as the forums and the law becomes settled.

    Gary Garritan

  2. #2

    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Sorry Gary, but the worst dictatorships around the world begun when someone decided who had to be included into discussion and what was permitted to be said.

    Small changes in the common sense of whats offensive are the preview of a flat brained society.

    Once people used just good sense to resolve those kind of problems. And they were better times.

    I hope the extra-ordered society and forum policy is not what you intended to promote with this post.

    Luca

  3. #3

    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Quote Originally Posted by Garritan
    It took the US Cavalry some 50 years to tame the US Wild West and bring law and order
    Was that the same cavalry that slaughtered the native americans just a century ago?

  4. #4
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    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Quote Originally Posted by musikman
    Was that the same cavalry that slaughtered the native americans just a century ago?
    Not according to F-Troop.

  5. #5

    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Coming from you and posted on NS this just made my day..lol

    Great sence of humor Gary..

    Tjerk

  6. #6

    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    I'm not convinced that most of what he's saying is true, Gary. It seems very unlikely that Papa Chalk could get sued if you lived just a little farther north and I called you a monopolist. The same applies to people voicing potentially damaging opinions, as often happens here ("everything so-so-and-so makes sucks").

    But if this were www.IllegalSampleLibraryFilesharing.com/forum, I think that would fall under the Supreme Court ruling. The current Napsters should be shut down; the Supreme Court was right for once.

    What happened on DAW-Mac maybe five or six years ago was someone made the point during an argument about copy protection that it took no time to find cracked Bomb Factory plug-ins. Eric Gavriluk, the rather controversial BF owner before Digidesign bought him out, threated to sue the list owner at the time if he didn't remove the reference from the archives.

    Things got really ugly.

  7. #7
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    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Nick,

    I don't think John Dvorak would write something untrue and not thoroughly check his sources. Canadian law is very different than US law in regard to libel laws.

    Under Canadian libel law, "you can be sued for anything you say about another person that damages their reputation. If sued, the onus is on you to prove the truth of your statements; the fact that you genuinely believed them to be true is not good enough. Even truth is not an absolute defence --- if the court finds you told the truth but your intent was malicious, you might lose anyway. Canadian libel law is so draconian that people come from all over the world to file libel suits in Ontario."

    I have been advised that under Canadian law, in addition to civil actions, a libel defendant may also face criminal action.

    The point John Dvorak was making was that international laws are very different and that this may have a chilling effect upon the operation of forums. The main point was that forums may have increasing liability in light of recent court decisions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Batzdorf
    I'm not convinced that most of what he's saying is true, Gary. It seems very unlikely that Papa Chalk could get sued if you lived just a little farther north and I called you a monopolist. The same applies to people voicing potentially damaging opinions, as often happens here ("everything so-so-and-so makes sucks").

    But if this were www.IllegalSampleLibraryFilesharing.com/forum, I think that would fall under the Supreme Court ruling. The current Napsters should be shut down; the Supreme Court was right for once.

    What happened on DAW-Mac maybe five or six years ago was someone made the point during an argument about copy protection that it took no time to find cracked Bomb Factory plug-ins. Eric Gavriluk, the rather controversial BF owner before Digidesign bought him out, threated to sue the list owner at the time if he didn't remove the reference from the archives.

    Things got really ugly.

  8. #8

    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Okay, but then surely *I* would be the one to get sued, not Papa Chalk and DeSounds.

  9. #9

    Lightbulb Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    Quote Originally Posted by Garritan
    I have been advised that under Canadian law, in addition to civil actions, a libel defendant may also face criminal action.
    So that's why all of those Canadian actors that come down here to make it in Hollywood are so darned nice! See? Even *I'm* doing it now - I just typed "darned"!! I would have never done that without the undue influence of those darned Canadians! There - I did it again, darn it! Uh... I just.. oh...


    ...shoot...



    But seriously, this is a great post, Gary. My wife and I were talking about how all of the recent rulings (not just the one issued today against Grokster, but all of them taken as a whole) will serve to tame the free-for-all atmosphere - especially once someone is made to pay dearly for a flagrant violation. She's doing quite a bit of research into the lives of various well-known Olde West figures, so drawing parallels to post-Civil-War expansion and "settlement" were inevitable. Avoiding the obvious pratfall of the fate that befell the "native" Americans, the parallel holds up fairly well. Of course, this is an international problem, but since the Internet was originally an American government construct, actions here are typically looked-to from abroad, and our influence on policies of other countries is obvious, at least on paper.

    Now that we have some guidelines being drawn, there will likely be more reactive and proactive enforcement as the pendulum swings back and forth. It will probably take another 5-10 years to sort out. My guess is that we'll move from a "Taming the Wild West" metaphor to more of a "quardened off" parallel to the 6,000-mile-long dingo fence they put up in Australia. Unless some of the signees to the Bern Convention actually start abiding by the letter *and* the spirit of its tenets, there will likely be a lot more "fences" running through the Internet over the next few years. I'm not saying that's good or bad - but I see it coming. All of these high-speed Internet service providers are owned by either big entertainment conglomerates - or are connected to the entertainment industry through sibling or parent companies. I think they'll take a cue from recent events and start "getting out in front" of some of the peer-to-peer networking going across their backbone and deciding to do something about it now - citing "potential liability issues" as the reason, but is actually rooted in the fact that by supporting those networks with their infrastructure - they're essentially biting their own hand that feeds them. Once they figure this out, it's going to get verrry interesting out there.

    I thought a professional Monopoly player was a "Monopolist"...

    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  10. #10

    Re: The Miserable End of the Open Forum

    I thought a professional Monopoly player was a "Monopolist"...
    Isn't monopoly a button on old Moog synths? I promise not to sue you for calling me a monopolist, it's just that I can't get enough of those thick basslines.

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