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The Case of the Full-Tilt Backpedal
1999-07-20 05:28:27

I've always wanted to take acid at Disneyland. I'd get a set of mouse-ears with "Satan" embroidered on the hat-part, and wear them with a big, stupid, evil grin on my face. Then I'd go ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride again and again, even though it isn't there anymore.
-- Enigma


The Internet is supposedly an unrestricted medium available to anyone who wants to express him/herself. You can put a Web site up and talk about blaw blaw blaw, and instantly it will be available to millions of people. Nobody can censor what you have to say... That's the mythology anyway.

The sick reality of things is that if someone big enough doesn't like what you have to say, more than likely, your service provider will wack your account faster than you can say, "Help! Help! My service provider has a back like a jellyfish!"

We've chronicled Art Bell's alleged behavior towards Internet Web sites he takes exception to -- supposedly pressuring service providers to nuke the accounts of his critics. The details may change, but sites with controversial material are being tossed off the net in the same way all the time.

Mother Jones Magazine's Mojo Wire has a story about a parody site, which made fun of Mirimax's new Talk Magazine. The site got booted from uber-ISP Earthlink (www.earthlink.com), one of the nation's largest service providers, when Mirimax's lawyers demanded that the site be taken down because of trademark violations. Earthlink caved without even a wimper.

Fortunately, somehow the New York Times got wind of the story and thought it worth publishing, at which point Earthlink's PR department and Mirimax's lawyers went into "full-tilt backpedal."

According to the Mojo Wire, Talk's PR director told the corporate lawyers to retract their claim of trademark violation, and stated that she found the site to be "damn funny." Earthlink apologized and reinstated the Talk parody site, tossing in several months of free service as a sop.

So everything worked our real nice like.

But would the Talk parody site still be around if it weren't for the New York Times? The moral of the story seems to be, if something like this happens to you, yell like HELL, and hope the New York Times is listening...

The crazy thing is that Internet service providers seem to want their cake and eat it to. They claim to be common carriers like the postal service or the telephone company, and thus not responsible for the information that's hosted on their servers. But, if a nasty lawyer calls -- or the webmaster of a popular site threatens to inconvenience them -- they fall back on their draconian "Acceptable Use," or "Terms of Service" policies, which usually state something to the effect that an account can be summarily deleted at the service provider's sole discretion.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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