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Will lawyers kill free speech on the Internet? 4/13/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Free speech.

Will the Internet deliver on its promise to deliver historically unprecedented free speech — speech that will not be suppressed in any way by government? So far, so good, but trouble is brewing. The Internet is still in private hands, despite the many politicians and U.N. members who would like to place it under government control. It has also thus far escaped the threat posed by Net Neutrality legislation, an invitation to the government to regulate the Internet, and the first step down that steep and slippery slope toward chilled speech. If you don’t think placing government in a power position makes a difference, compare the cowardly, government-friendly, network TV evening news programs that are carried by companies requiring government issued and reissued broadcast licenses to the hot political talk on the unlicensed cable TV channels.

The new threat comes from a branch of government that no one thinks of as a branch of government — trial lawyers. In Britain last September, we learned that the mere threat of a lawsuit against the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of an offending blog was enough for the ISP to drop the blog from its servers. Now the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto brings to our attention a lawyer serving a burdensome subpoena on a New Hampshire mother of two blogger whose content might hurt his client’s cause. Make no mistake about it — trial lawyers can use the full force of the federal government to get their way, in this case chilling free speech. Another front has been added in America’s battle to realize the Internet’s unprecedented opportunities for free speech, and another chapter in America’s hate affair with lawyers.


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