cr#1293> re: CompuServ


Richard Moore

Date: Mon, 8 Jan 1996
Sender: •••@••.•••
Subject: Re: cr#1289> (:>) Compuserve Caves In Again

I do not know much about compuserv, but the recent restrictive actions they
have taken, seems to indicate that they are hopeful of becoming the online
server for corporate clients.  This would explain their eagerness to maintain
access to as many markets as possible that would be of interest to commercial
entities.  Commercial clients also require zero controversy.  Think of them
paving a road to eliminate the "bumps".  After all, the loss of individual
subscribers would be well worth it if in return they get the world's
commercial accounts.


Date: Mon, 8 Jan 1996
Sender: Bill W Smith Jr <•••@••.•••>
Subject: David Plotnikoff column in San Jose Mercury News

I have not seen this on the list. I received it from a friend on the
free-kpfa list.

Column from the San Jose Mercury News, 4 January 1996

by David Plotnikoff

Bite lacking in protests of on-line censorship

By this point, you've probably heard about CompuServe's little dirty-
picture problem with German law enforcement.  But just in case you've
been in an eggnog-induced stupor, let's run down the facts:  As part
of a pornography crackdown, officials from a German prosecutor's
office recently told the Ohio-based on-line behemoth that certain
Usenet groups it carried were in violation of German obscenity laws.
CompuServe responded immediately by blocking access to some 200
Usenet news groups.

  The list of groups, which CompuServe's legal department isn't even
releasing within the company, is believed to include a lot more than
just dirty pictures.  Apparently every major gay and lesbian support
and social group on Usenet, a sex-abuse survivor's group, many joke
groups and two respected news wires also failed the prurience test.
And this sudden plug-pulling didn't just hit German customers.  All
4 million-plus CompuServe members worldwide had their news feeds
sanitized to comply with German purity laws.

  This case is not really about grainy digitized photos of Brigitte
and her donkey illustrating the client-server relationship.  It's
about who will have jurisdiction over a global medium.

  To nobody's great surprise, on-line reaction to the news was swift
and strong.  All the usual suspects, plus a whole new aggrieved class
of CompuServe members, took to the wire to vent their anger in all
the usual forums.  In the days after the announcement, what we got on
Usenet, instead of clarity and focus, was a lot of impotent rage:
E-mail bomb the German government, said one.  Boycott German products.
E-mail bomb CompuServe.  Boycott CompuServe.  Draft an electronic
petition.  Organize an electronic blockade of Germany's Net community.
Seventeen flavors of sound bites and fury, all signifying nothing.

  All this leads me to wonder: Does the Net community have the leader-
ship, the political juice and the sheer will to resist the chilling
touch of any government that decides to make _its_ standard the
_world_ standard?  Conventional wisdom has painted the digital
community as being the new global elite.  But this diverse, dispersed
and downright fractious community seems utterly unable to defend its
own values and its own interests.  We talk a good game, but when the
first jackboot hits the porch, we look at each other as if to say:
"Um, why don't _you_ get the door?"

Senate censors

  This is not the first recent case where the on-line community has
been perfunctorily whipped in a censorship fight.  There's a pattern
of mumbling, stumbling and bumbling here that bodes ill for all of us:
consider what happened this past summer with the Net-smut provisions
in the Senate's version of the telecom reform bill.  Sen. James Exon
(D-Neb.) floated a wildly broad and vague proposal that would subject
on-line speech to a taste-test far more stringent than that for any
other medium.  The on-line industry, the Net community and various
civil libertarians stomped and stomed and hooted, but did little in the
way of real effective hardball lobbying.

  Now, the conference committee is hammering out the final language in
the bill and, much to the delight of various "family decency" groups,
we're looking at Exon Lite.  Oh, the on-line services will have some
small modicum of safety in that they're not liable for violations
committed by customers.  But the provisions that criminalize not only
images, but also words, are still there.  The vague "indecency"
language that would set an unconstitutional standard is still there.

  Earlier this week, when I spoke with CompuServe spokesman Daphne
Kent about the German case, she said nobody at the service seemed
terribly surprised to see the censorship boom finally come down.
"We operate in 140 countries, and I think it was almost inevitable
that some government, somewhere, sooner or later was going to raise
some sort of objections," she explained.  Nevertheless, CompuServe
seems momentarily at a loss to come up with a suitable response to the
edict.  Kent said she was unsure if the company would pursue a legal
challenge in Germany.  "Our first option might be to develop some
sort of software control that would tailor access by country.  Beyond
that, I really don't know what sort of a leadership role we'd take.
When it comes to responding to community standards state by state or
country by country, you can see we're just at the beginning of this."

'Early stages' for rules

  Bob Smith, executive director of the Interactive Services Associa-
tion, said he, too, is at a loss for solutions: "We're in the early
stages of forming the rules for a new medium, so nobody has simple,
straightforward answers.  How do you accomodate a variety of laws,
ethics and social standards around the world?"  (Incredibly, Smith
said on Tuesday he has yet to speak with CompuServe about the German

  I asked Smith, whose agency is charged with representing the
interests of the on-line carriers, if the Net community is suffering
from a leadership vacuum.  "This is a dispersed community, but I don't
think we're leaderless," he said.  "And I don't feel the industry just
rolled over on censorship.  We've pushed every button politically we
could push.  I'll admit we're not as politically sophisticated as some
other groups, though."

  Smith said he's already looking past the all-but-finished fight in
Congress to the next showdown -- in the courts: "OK, so maybe we are
going to have to swallow (the revised Exon decency amendment), but
it's just part of the war.  We may lose that battle in Congress, but
it's just the beginning," he said, sounding very much like a club
fighter who's simply relieved to still have all his teeth after five

  So where does the on-line community draw the line?  What is it going
to take to get all the talent, all the righteous anger out there
focused on one common goal?  Last week, a foreign power successfully
bullied an American company into pulling the plug on part of the news
feed that reaches millions of Americans.  Within the next few weeks,
your elected representatives are almost certainly going to sign away a
broad swath of your First Amendment rights.  This would appear to be as
good a time as any to say "enough."

  You could start by firing up a Web browser and visiting (Voters Telecommunications Watch), (Center for Democracy and Technology) and (the Electronic Frontier Foundation).  On Usenet
read alt.censorship and before some governing body
decides those, too, are dangerous forums.

---Write David Plotnikoff at the San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park
Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190; phone (408)920-5867; fax (408)271-3786;
or e-mail •••@••.•••.  On the World Wide Web, dial

Bill W Smith Jr <•••@••.•••>                    (Compuserve) 76460,1443
Senior Programmer                       Around Utah, past Phoenix,
Sunland Resources, Inc.              over San Antonio, through Orlando...
(713) 955-2800 (Voice)                       Nothin' but net!
(713) 955-7564 (Fax)       Houston Rockets - 1994 & 1995 NBA World Champions!

Date: Mon, 8 Jan 1996
Sender: Bill W Smith Jr <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cr#1289> (:>) Compuserve Caves In Again

~--<snip of quoted material>--~

>In response, Compuserve has announced that they
>will henceforth restrict access worldwide to all Internet newsgroups
>which are written in English.  This policy will take place immediately.

Gods, Patrick! Don't do that! I actually took this seriously for about 10
seconds until I rechecked the subject line and noticed the international
warning sign for the humor impaired!


Never thirst!
Bill W Smith Jr <•••@••.•••>                    (Compuserve) 76460,1443
Senior Programmer                       Around Utah, past Phoenix,
Sunland Resources, Inc.              over San Antonio, through Orlando...
(713) 955-2800 (Voice)                       Nothin' but net!
(713) 955-7564 (Fax)       Houston Rockets - 1994 & 1995 NBA World Champions!


Actually Patrick didn't use a happy face; it seemed prudent to add it.



 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland
 Materials may be reposted in their entirety for non-commercial use.