Tuesday, 02 October 2007

In Passing

The censorship's in the policy

Via C.G. Hill: Doc Searls dug through AT&T's 10,000+ word "legal policy," and found something interesting:

AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries... [Bolding is Doc's - O.G.]
In a comment to Doc's post, Seth Finkelstein says, "It's common boilerplate." In his own post, Seth continues:
[A Google search on "damage the name or reputation"-AT&T] ...shows that a TOS clause about "damage the name or reputation" is a common boilerplate, and has nothing to with AT&T trying to supposedly CENSOR CRITICISM. It took me around a minute to find that.

I used to think this sort wolf-crying needed to be affirmatively opposed because it reflected badly on net activism. Now I've come to believe I'm just not cut out for politics.
I can't buy Seth's "common boilerplate"=="nothing to see here" argument. If the clause is meaningless, it wouldn't be there. If it's not designed to punish critics, then what is its intent? And if AT&T doesn't want to be able to exercise it, then including it in the policy is stupid, because it risks just this kind of a flap as soon as somebody notices it.

Unenforcable? Perhaps, but for the customer that translates to, "Sue us if you don't like it." Providers have been known to shut down service, claiming TOS reasons.

As to whether AT&T would pull the plug on someone who posted something that AT&T didn't like, well, I guess we'll just have to trust them.

UPDATE 071002 18:21: Richard Bennett adds to the discussion:
The way I read this is that you can’t damage a man’s or a company’s reputation simply by criticizing them; if you’re truthful, the issue is the deeds you’re describing, not the description. If you’re not truthful you still have to cause some damage to the target’s reputation to be afoul of the law. So I can talk smack about AT&T all day long so long as I don’t invent facts about them, and I can even make up facts about them as long as nobody pays any attention to me. And so can you.

AT&T is simply invoking slander and defamation law to its benefit and short-cutting the legal process. If this provision were removed from their AUP, they would still be protected by the law, but they would have to sue to assert the right. Is that what we want? [Highlighting mine -O.G.]
Umm... yes?

UPDATE 071002 19:34: from Ars Technica:
...an AT&T spokesperson tells Ars Technica that the company has no interest in engaging in censorship but stopped short of saying that AT&T could not in fact exercise its ability to do so.

UPDATE 071011 16:33: Fixed.

Posted by: Old Grouch in In Passing at 15:41:29 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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