Enter Stage Gabbing

Free speech fraud

By Steven Martinovich

(November 15) -- Can't we all just get along? Apparently not because the battle over unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) -- the polite name for spam e-mail -- isn't going away. As reported last week by Salon magazine, the Direct Marketing Association, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, and representatives from various Internet service providers, telecommunications companies and software developers, including Microsoft tried to get along.

In December 1998, CAUCE and it's allies tried to impress upon the DMA to shun UCE as a bad business practice. The DMA was told that UCE threatens privacy, the co-operative nature of the Internet and forces people like you and me to pay for it because we pay for the access to download that e-mail. Surprisingly, the DMA agreed and both sides came up with some recommendations which included a global non-profit "opt-out" list, which would allow individuals and companies to register that they did not want to receive unsolicited e-mail.

The getting along ended abruptly recently when the DMA praised the business potential of UCE and deciding to charge anyone who wanted to use the opt-out list.

Since then, both sides have engaged in a war of words with the DMA denying that an agreement had ever been completed while CAUCE issued a call for what it was previously opposed to, government legislation to stop spam.

CAUCE's position is regrettable but understandable to some degree. I have to pay for the joy of downloading e-mail offering free membership on adult web sites, miraculous hair recovery systems, ways to clear up my credit, or amazing opportunities in the multi-level marketing field ($50 000 in nine days I'm told in one). That said, invitation to regulate e-mail is a clarion call for increasing government of the Internet, something we need as much as we need spam itself.

What drew my attention in the story was the position of the DMA. Spam, considered a nuisance by most, apparently occupies higher moral ground than mere sales pitches for generally dubious products and services, it's free speech personified.

"As a legal principle, we maintain the right of commercial free speech," Pat Faley, DMA's vice president for ethics and consumer affairs told Salon. "If you're a small business trying to get off the ground, the only way to do that is to reach out and let people know what products you have, to offer it to the world on the Internet. That's why we say that a marketer should be able to let consumers know what they have to offer them; and then if a consumer says 'I don't want to hear from you again,' a marketer should respect that. It's the 'one bite at the apple' approach."

Faley is correct that commercial free speech should be defended. Tobacco and liquor companies for years have had their commercial free speech rights infringed upon by the government with restrictions on signs, venue and even what the advertisement can contain. It's no less valuable than the free speech rights of writers, artists and the public at large.

Unfortunately for Faley, UCE is not free speech for two very obvious reasons. First, as mentioned before, UCE costs me money whether I want it or not, and second, it is sent to me without my permission.

Plain and simple, there is no right to free speech on someone else's property and the storage space for e-mail on my provider's servers is mine since I am renting it. By sending me UCE, they are not only forcing me to listen to their spiel, they are making me rent the hall as well.

As Ayn Rand wrote back in 1965, "[i]n any undertaking or establishment involving more than one man, it is the owner or owners who set the rules and terms of appropriate conduct." In a free exchange, each party has the right to decide whether they want to participate and none have the right to force their decision on someone else. The DMA's members are more than free to shout to the skies about their valuable products and services, but they don't have the right which includes forcing me listening to it.

Defending free speech is good, but being honest is better. You don't have the right to stand on my property and use it as a platform for beliefs I may not share and have me pay for the pleasure. Spam may be speech but it's hardly free.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

web posted November 22, 1999

ESR writer on KITZ radio

ESR senior writer Steve Farrell will be on the Marcus Hoffman show, KITZ 1400 AM, in the Greater Seatle, WA area, Tuesday, November 23rd at 5:00pm P.T. for one hour. Make sure to listen to one of ESR's premier writers!

web posted November 15, 1999

Going places

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