Another Censorship, Freedom of Speech, Rights of Vendor Issue
Jim Wilson VA
jdwilson at gold.chem.hawaii.edu
Sat Mar 26 16:26:54 PST 1994
To supporters of freedom of speech - please read, act and
share this as your conscience dictates:
Unofficially excerpted from Infoworld 3/7/94 Brian Livingston's
Window Manager column.
"Can CompuServe succeed in silencing Windows dissenters? Having
your electronic mail account cut off is the modern equivalent
of solitary confinement. Many services I use, such as Microsoft
Windows forums, exist exclusively on systems such as the CompuServe
Information Service. There is no other place for information.
"That's why I took notice when CompuServe threatened to cut off
a subscriber's account if he even mentioned on-line a lawsuit that
the company filed against him.
"Compuserve filed suit January 31 in Federal District Court in Ohio
against Richard S. Patterson, the developer of a shareware program
called Windows Navigator (WinNAV), which he has distributed on
Compuserve for several years.
This suit came about after Patterson complained on a Compuserve
forum last December that the company's plans to release a product
called Windows Navigator infringed upon his trademarks.
"Prior to initiating the suit, Compuserve modified the name of its
product to CompuServe Navigator, Windows Version. It asks the court
to find that Patterson has "no trademark rights" that it has
infringed, and for an unspecified monetary penalty.
"I don't know who will prevail in this suit. But what really
bothers me is this threat in a letter to Patterson dated January 31,
from Kevin J. Osterkamp, Compuserve's attorney in the firm of
Roetzel and Andress, of Columbus, Ohio;
"I am as legal counsel for Compuserve compelled to advise you that
it is Compuserves position that you will be terminated if you
mention, discuss, or comment upon the lawsuit or the issues
related thereto as a part of the CompuServe Information Service.
Termination will also result from any other disparagment of
Compuserve, its management, employees, or business practices.
"I've never met Mr. Patterson, but I know him tangentially from
his other software, Zip Tools, which appears in Windows Gizmos.
"My columns have promoted CompuServe many times, so I asked for
it's position. The gist of the reply I received from Mr. Oster-
kamp was this:
"Regarding the case of Compuserve vs. Patterson, my ethical
obligations (and Mr. Patterson's) prohibit me from commenting
directly on the case. I can, however, assure you that our
request that Mr. Patterson stop using Compuserve's online
services to disparage the company is simply good, old-fashioned
common sense. After all, why should CompuServe - or any online
service - allow a disgruntled party the opportunity to bad-
mouth the company in its own forum?
"Why, indeed? It's called "a free exchange of ideas." It is
much sought after by people around the world.
"If AT&T could cut off my phone because I criticized them while
using long distance, we would be in very serious danger of losing
"It is unclear whether electronic services are "common carriers"
(like AT&T) that must carry all communications, or "publishers"
(like magazines) that are legally responsible for the words they
choose to print.
"But Compuserve knows which it prefers to be. In separate cases,
it has been sued by the National Music Publishers Association and
Cubby Inc. for distributing material uploaded by subscribers.
Compuserve argues that it should be free from any liability
because "it is a distributor and not a publisher."
"Our future "information highway" will inevitably center on just
five or six giant corporations. That's why it's so important
that access not be denied to someone whom these entities don't
"Because children read forums, I agree that obscene language
should be banned. But I've read the forum messages, and
Patterson is not guilty of that.
"Do me a favor. Sit down right now and tap out a message to
Mauryve Cox, the CEO of Compuserve. His I.D. number is
70003,1550. Tell him how important it is to you that no one
be denied access to Compuserve forums. Send me a copy,
if my account still works after this column appears.
(Brian Livingston is the author of "Windows 3.1 Secrets" and
"More Windows Secrets", and co-author of "Windows Gizmos."
Send tips to Compuserve: 70053,2035; or fax: (206) 282-1248.)
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