Thursday, June 10, 2004

Free wheel

Why believe in free speech?

For me, the reason is simple. I can never rid myself of the suspicion that those seeking to curtail it in whatever way are trying to do no good.

This isn't always true, of course. Some who wish to put limits on free speech are trying to prevent harms arising out of it. The "fire in the theatre" provisions have this notion at heart. Even the staunchest supporters of free speech can, if not support, understand those who wish to limit its expression where it is clearly harmful: in hate speech, child pornography, etc.

Free speech is the lifeblood of several of the things that bring me joy, not to mention one of the foremost rights in the nation I call home. There are always those who wish to put limits on it, and I do believe that each in our small way we should resist that, whether the censors are using public decency, copyright or simply their own taste as their weapon.

I have an interesting case in alt.fiction.original. I occasionally criticise a story in that group. Some of the regulars don't like my style, which is okay by me. I'm not writing critiques for them, but for anyone who wants to learn from what I know. Given my experience and my understanding of English, that's a gift that some welcome. Those who don't can, of course, use their killfiles.

Now I post critiques without much regard to the bumph, the intro, etc. I go straight to the story. So I was surprised when some guy got himself into a tizz because I hadn't set a no-archive header.

I never set no-archive headers. I never will. I don't have anything to hide in my posts. I don't break any laws. I don't have the least notion of shame, so nothing I write is ever going to embarrass me.

But it seems these guys in AFO have taken to no-archiving their posts so that publishers won't know they've previously published them. They think publishers google the titles to check whether they've had previous publication.

Well, I suppose some publishers might. It's a reasonable concern on the part of the posters. The solution is not to post their work to Usenet, of course. By doing so they make it available to anyone who cares to read it, free of charge.

But these guys want more than just not to have their stories show up on google. They want all critiques of them also to be hidden. They don't want me to stop reviewing their work (well, they do, but they don't want to ask because they fear being exposed as petty censors); but they want me to join them in defrauding publishers.

They have published work by some publishers' definition. Hiding it from google does not change that. What they are seeking to do is curtail my right to free speech -- to make fair comment upon their work, which after all they have offered up for the specific purpose of allowing that comment -- so that they can cheat publishers.

Some are talking about involving lawyers. Any decent lawyer will of course point out to them that only they are doing anything dodgy! In making a representation to a publisher that they have not previously published the work, they will not be telling the truth.

Will I respect their wishes to no-archive their posts? No, I never will. They are practising a dishonesty, and I will not join them in it. Would I simply not review their pieces if they asked me? Well, I might, but although some are discussing the law -- I'm not kidding -- not one has written to me privately and made any case for obliging them.

But of course they haven't. Like all censors, they are not interested in the principle half so much as the public display of the superiority they feel and the public imposition of their ideas on others (censors do not just write to the broadcaster to ask them not to show a certain programme -- they like to appear on TV themselves so that everyone can see them demanding that the programme is withdrawn). Censors do not simply watch what they read themselves, turn the TV off if they don't like it or just not go to the movie in question. They seek to make others conform to their notion of what is right. But they do not do it the right way, the way we have found that I believe to be the best, which is by the free passage of ideas, the exchange of views.


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