If ever there was a case of Corporate America versus the Little Guy, it is the lawsuit initiated by two media giants, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, against the populist-conservative website known as Free Republic.
In this corner is Jim Robinson, a Vietnam vet and retired software executive who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy around 1976. But that didn't stop him from creating a software company, ProtoSource, that was soon bringing in over $2 million a year. Yet it seemed the Fates were determined to give Robinson a hard time: by 1996, the disease had progressed to the point where he could no longer work. To make matters much worse, his wife suffered a severe stroke: her left side was completely paralyzed, and she was unable to work. It was then that the board of directors of his company, ProtoSource, asked him to step down as chairman and chief executive officer. When his one-year consultancy contract ran out, the new regime informed him that it would not be renewed. It wouldn't be the first time a creator and founder had been betrayed by his own creation but Jim Robinson is a hard man to keep down.
Muscular dystrophy hadn't felled him, and neither would this: he picked himself up off the floor and started Electronic Orchard, which marketed accounting software systems for agribusiness. In 1991, Robinson began to become interested in politics, and this naturally melded with his computer skills: he started posting articles and comments on the electronic bulletin boards maintained by Prodigy, and various Usenet groups, and in particular was active on the "Prodigy Whitewater News" board. In spite of officious attempts by the Clintonian yuppies at Prodigy to censor commentary, a group of conservatives began to make contact with each other. Some of the board's habitués began to coalesce around the idea that the Clinton administration was rife with corruption, focusing especially on the scandals involving large contributions to the DNC by the "Lippo Group," controlled by Indonesia's wealthy Riady family. A cyber-community began to form around an idea that has since been more than confirmed that William Jefferson Clinton is the most corrupt President in the history of these United States (yes, even including President Ulysses S. Grant!)
Robinson and his friends were beginning to chafe under the increasingly severe constraints placed by Prodigy on free discussion of the Whitewater scandal, then exploding onto the front pages of the nation's newspapers. To begin with, Prodigy was one of those closed-system dinosaurs, a self-contained centrally-controlled cyber-universe modeled after the corporate entity that had founded it: You had to subscribe, and in return you were given a maze of politically correct "chat rooms," bulletin boards, and other features. This was all controlled by omnipotent cyber-enforcers, who could silence dissidents with the flick of a button, by literally editing out speech deemed un-PC. There was no portal to the Internet. Like the residents of East Berlin at the height of the Cold War, the unhappy prisoners of Prodigy were trapped in a dreary world run by bureaucrats (albeit of the corporate variety), where conservative views were banned as "hate speech" and the colors were strictly earthtones. Conservatives and other dissidents, increasingly frustrated by growing online constraints, dreamed of making a break for freedom. Until the day the Wall came down . . .
Robinson saw early on that these closed systems Prodigy, AOL, and other would-be cyber-moguls who failed to understand that the Internet was already out there would soon be left in the dust. Like the centrally-planned and controlled economy of the Soviet Union and its satellites, Prodigy and its corporate brethren were doomed the future was not in these sealed off backwaters, but in the wide-open spaces of the Internet.
It was there that Robinson hoisted the banner of Free Republic an Internet posting site that soon attracted hundreds, then thousands, and eventually tens of thousands of individual visitors. Not only refugees from the other side of the Prodigy Wall, but thousands of newbies pouring into cyberspace, eager for engagement and ready to rumble. As the Clinton scandals began to overwhelm all other subjects so that the debate over the Great Pants-dropper and his legacy of shame became a national conversation and collective soul-searching Free Republic became the catalyst of a national protest movement, a rightist revival that soon began to attract a fair amount of attention. This was Matt Drudge's original audience, the ones who visited his site before he started scooping the media, on Monica-gate and other big stories. A cyber-community of like-minded souls began to develop with astonishing rapidity: friendships were formed, the result of long "threads" (conversations on posting boards) that were more binding and more intimate, in a way, than all too many "real world" affiliations. As opposed to the artificial, controlled, and fully-moderated "discussions" in the dead world of Prodigy, what evolved on Free Republic was a natural, spontaneous, and almost completely unmoderated (but orderly) cyber-community, united not only by politics but by mutually-observed rules of behavior, otherwise known as social conventions: in short, an online subculture was being born.
But not everyone was happy with the expansion of the Internet into the political and journalistic realm two professions once thought to be the sacred precincts of our self-appointed elites. Faced with competition from Matt Drudge, unnerved by the rapid expansion of the Internet as a news source, and hostile to the right-wing populism that seemed to animate these rambunctious electronic "netizens," the Media Monopolists began to strike back.
Their first target was Matt Drudge, and their weapon of choice was a lawsuit: the Sidney Blumenthal libel suit that was nothing more than a political attack on a dissident journalist, no different in principle from the persecution of the samizdat publishers by the Communists in the old Soviet Union. This battle was fought in the midst of a vicious campaign to discredit Drudge as an "amateur" who had dared to usurp "legitimate" media professionals: they bitterly resented that he had bypassed the corporate media, and escaped the ideological filters imposed by editorial gatekeepers such as themselves. And, most of all, they envied his immense popularity, his ability to dig out the dirt on the Clintonistas and spread it all over his very un-corporate looking website, with its bares-as-bones nongraphics and Courier typeface. They just hated him for it, you could see it their faces when sneering journalists and other TV talking heads pooh-poohed his unfailingly accurate reports as "gossip."
Drudge not only survived, but prospered albeit not without a lot of legal bills. His television and radio appearances supplement his wildly successful website , and he is an example of a modern day hero a dissident publisher of samizdat who won his battle against the journalistic nomenklatura. But Drudge wasn't the only target in their sights: Robinson was next, and in very short order.
Jim Robinson's political troubles, as the central figure in a growing cyber-community of online conservatives and libertarians, really began when he dared to cross the Bush campaign. Robinson and the Free Republic community were generally hostile to George Dubya, and the whole tradition of Rockefeller Republicanism represented by Bush senior. The Kosovo war had radicalized the Freepers, as they called themselves. They are instinctually anti-authoritarian, increasingly anti-internationalist, supporters of Buchanan, Forbes, Keyes, and Bauer anybody but the candidate of the Republican Establishment. And what's more, there are thousands of them. As Bush senior said in a different context: "This cannot stand." And it wasn't long before the lawyers came gunning for Jim Robinson.
In a noisy split that prefigured the Buchanan bolt months later, the few Bushians on Free Republic left, and set up their own website, Lucianne.com. The site is named after their Lider Maximo, Lucianne Goldberg, the New York City literary agent who played a role in publicizing the existence of the notorious tapes made by Linda Tripp. The L-dotters, as they might be called, are a small group, but they had friends in the media who were more than happy to chronicle their complaints against their former comrades. In another development that prefigured Buchanan's split with the GOP, Salon published a long article using Lucianne Goldberg and her friends as a major source smearing Robinson and Free Republic as anti-Semitic racist homophobes. To listen to Lucianne and her cyber-coven, it seemed that not only Robinson but also thousands of other cyber-heretics were guilty of every single variety of political incorrectness imaginable. The Clintonistas over at Salon gleefully lapped all this up, just as they now provide a platform for every imaginable slur against Pat Buchanan and the so-call "far right."
Salon, the cyber-organ of Clintonian soccer-momism, with its anorexic graphics and insipidly self-righteous left-liberalism, is really the continuous thread that runs throughout this story. When Robinson and Free Republic were sued by the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times for "copyright infringement," Salon exulted:
"Goldberg and several other Free Republic stars have left; visits are reportedly down to less than half what they were a year ago; Free Republic's founding guru, Jim Robinson, has been sued by the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times; and a swelling number of haters have turned up the volume of death threats, gay-bashing, name-calling and conspiracy theories."
Of course, the appearance of a smear in the snooty cyber-parlors of Salon made Robinson and Free Republic all the more popular among principled grassroots conservatives but the Media Monopolists weren't through with Jim Robinson and Free Republic just yet. The "copyright infringement" lawsuit is a legalistic cover, and a threadbare one at that, for outright political persecution of cyber-dissidents: its goal is to stanch the free flow of information. It is clearly a political attack, a move perfectly in line with this Administration's persistent attempts to regulate and moderate the Internet. The Clintonian hostility to free discussion on the Internet was underscored by Matt Drudge in his famous speech to the National Press Club:
"The first lady of the United States recently addressed concerns about Internet during a cyberspatial Millennium Project press conference just weeks after Lewinsky broke. She said, 'We're all going to have to rethink how we deal with the Internet. As exciting as these new developments are, there are a number of serious issues without any kind of editing function or gatekeeping function.' I wonder who she was referring to.
"Mrs. Clinton continued, 'Any time an individual leaps so far ahead of that balance and throws the system, whatever it might be-political, economic, technological-out of balance, you've got a problem. It can lead to all kinds of bad outcomes which we have seen historically.'
"Would she have said the same thing about Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or Einstein? They all leapt so far ahead out that they shook the balance. No, I say to these people, faster, not slower. Create. Let your mind flow. Let the imagination take over. And if technology has finally caught up with individual liberty, why would anyone who loves freedom want to rethink that?"
Well, for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, they want to control not only the dissemination but the discussion of the news. As someone who goes by the screen-name "Ditto" put it on Free Republic recently:
"A small handful of multi-billion dollar media conglomerates, not unlike a handful of Detroit auto makers, hold monopoly power over the news reporting and dissemination. Unlike the auto industry, however, the insider contacts the media has are government employees and the information they supply is public property. The media also receive extraordinary protection from product liability under the First Amendment that other industries do not enjoy.
"FreeRepublic does not reproduce the Sports Page, the Classified Ads, the Entertainment or the Cooking sections from any paper. We focus on news relating to government affairs which is generated by those papers with tremendous tacit subsidies of government time and money.
"Because of their extraordinary access denied average citizens, the concentration of power in fewer and fewer corporate media hands, and the very nature of the news and information they provide, the only rational view is that it is not theirs to keep. They are a Public Utility that demands citizen oversight."
Well said, Ditto. The above is a succinct and incisive description of the plaintiff. Now let's look at the defendant a 53-year physically disabled Vietnam war veteran, out in Fresno, California, with practically no money and no media insider allies to take up his cause. Arrayed against him we have the liberal upper crust of the journalistic nomenklatura, two mighty corporate giants, who together represent both the political and economic interests with the most to lose from the unregulated development and expansion of the Internet. Could there be a clearer case of the heroic individualist versus the greedy Corporate Establishment? Not to hear Salon tell it. In a stunningly clueless article by Mark Gimein, "'Fair use' versus Foul Play," [November 10, 1999], it is the poor put-upon Media Giants, and their bought-and-paid-for scribblers, who are the real "victims" in this case. Gimein starts out with a complete fabrication:
"FreeRepublic.com does tell readers the writer and source of the stories posted. But it does not bother even with the minimal Web etiquette of linking to the publications' Web sites. It simply reprints the stories, with a boilerplate disclaimer that the works are copyrighted and used under the "fair use" provisions of copyright law."
The above paragraph appeared in the first version of Gimein's story, but was deleted after I called Gimein's editor and emailed the author, correcting this gross inaccuracy. No correction or acknowledgment of the error ever appeared in Salon, of course. Now, while providing URLs does seem to be beyond the technical ability of a very few Freepers, anyone could have gone to the site and seen that the place is fairly bristling with links to original sources. Gimein did not even bother to check, or even familiarize himself with the site before writing about it. Indeed, as he admits, he sat down to write his piece with a preconceived idea.
Like so much of the self-indulgent navel-gazing tripe that appears in the pages of Salon, this piece starts out with a prolonged self-examination, in this case of the writing process itself: here was a man facing a deadline who had neglected to do even the most rudimentary research. What to do? Wing it.
"Judge Margaret Morrow clearly disagreed with Robinson's contention, and no wonder. There is no "fair use" provision in copyright law that lets you reprint entire articles, no matter how much discussion they are intended to spur. As a writer, I was all set to cheer the decision: The notion that somebody could take my words and simply redistribute them on the Web without my permission or my publishers' was not one that I found appealing."
Wait a minute what kind of a writer, especially a lowly wordsmith like Gimein, with nary a bestseller to his name, is anything but flattered by the posting of his work as the focal point of a discussion? Give me a break! Gimein is either the most dishonest writer who ever lived, or else he is not really a writer at all but an accountant, or perhaps just a corporate lackey, who doesn't really write so much as take dictation.
Secondly, Free Republic is no more redistributing materials than a public library or a collector of old newspapers, or an archivist who is collecting information of any sort. No one pays to view the files collected by the Free Republic cyber-community: all you have to do is register. And isn't it funny, but the Los Angeles Times seems to be realizing that charging for this "service" is not economically viable, since they are now offering free searches of their files allowing everyone free access to their supposedly precious and jealously-hoarded copyrighted materials. Some "copyright infringement"!
It is almost pathetic, what Gimein is trying to pull:
"So I sat down to write about FreeRepublic.com with the idea that what Robinson was doing was a flagrant abuse of the power that the Web puts in the hands of the independent publisher. I also had the idea that I would compare what Robinson was doing copying and illegally reprinting work that other people had written with the work of Robert Lane, the operator of Blue Oval News, a Web site devoted to news about Ford cars and the Ford Motor Co. I wanted to write about Blue Oval News because the site, unlike FreeRepublic.com, represented what was best about independent news on the Internet."
Lane, it seems, ripped off internal documents from Ford a great idea, in Gimein's book and was successfully sued by the company, which claimed copyright protection. This, contends Gimein, is not good everyone knows the evil makers of polluting un-PC cars don't deserve anything like property rights. By Gimeinian standards of "justice," let us be clear, a plain thief is a moral hero, but a guy out in Fresno in a wheelchair who dares to stand up against the corporate and political Establishment is a villain. Now, doesn't that sound about right to you?
The idea that a posting site violates the copyright laws involves a complete misunderstanding of the technology. For in posting an article the site is not redistributing it, or reselling it, or republishing it, or even making multiple copies of it the most accurate analogy is that it is being read aloud, like Rush Limbaugh sometimes likes to read entire newspaper articles over the air, as a take-off point for his own commentary. And this is very much the style of Free Republic, which after all has its roots in talk radio. The two mediums follow similar formats: a news item, followed by a cacophony of commentary, with each caller registering his or her own take on the topic at hand. Why is this form okay on the radio, but prohibited on the Internet? One answer may be that the same big corporations that own the newspapers are also heavily invested in radio: but the Internet is virgin territory, outside the control of the media conglomerates. Internet institutions like Free Republic threaten to break their monopoly. Their response is to call in the State, in the form of Judge Morrow, in an effort to make an example of Free Republic.
Now there can be little doubt about the political motivation behind this legal persecution: Judge Morrow has a record as one of the most liberal of a whole platoon of Clinton appointees, as Senator Inhofe and others pointed out on the Senate floor. (Click here for a fascinating glimpse into the role the Los Angeles Times played in the confirmation of Judge Morrow.)
This case has to be political persecution for it is obvious to any reasonable person that posting a news article on Free Republic or any other posting site is no more a copyright "infringement" than borrowing a copy of the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post and engaging in a discussion about it with a friend over a cup of coffee. If posting an article on a website is a crime, then all you book-borrowers out there (and you know who you are) will soon find yourselves in the slammer, where you belong.
Key to Judge Morrow's rejection of the "fair use" argument made by the defense was her argument that this did not apply, since the posting did not "transform" the original text and make it into something entirely new some articles, she noted, were posted with little or no commentary. Many items are posted that are simply not worth commenting on: so what? But when an article inspires a long and contentious thread or perhaps, in some cases, even a long and thoughtful one then the original text is in truth transformed by the commentary. It is impossible for me to read one of my own columns posted on Free Republic without seeing the text in a new light, and I am proud of the extent and thoughtfulness of some of the threads my pieces have provoked, and deeply flattered (writers are so easy to flatter!) by all the attention. And that is what really grates on the nerves about the Gimein article all this posing as the great defender of writer's rights! What a crock! As if the writer and his readers could possibly be at such cross-purposes. No, this has nothing to do with "writer's rights," and everything to do with the alleged "right" of our corporate elite to control all political discussion in this country and clamp down on the Internet.
Where are all the civil libertarians? The ACLU seems to be missing in action perhaps they're too busy trying to free convicted (and self-admitted) murderer Mumia abu Jamal to notice that the Corporate Elite/Big Government alliance is commandeering the Internet.
Where are the presidential candidates on this question? They need to be asked, it is that important. Where is Mr. Hi-Tech "no tax on e-commerce" Steve Forbes on this vital question of the future of the Internet and free speech in America? And surely if anyone takes up the cause of the ordinary guy against the corporate barons of the mediaocracy, it will have to be Pat Buchanan. And what about Alan Keyes surely he is not the type to remain silent. And what about you, Gary Bauer? Why are conservative politicians letting a liberal judge close down such a revered institution as Free Republic? Congress has so far ignored the protests of conservatives who say that the IRS has been harassing WorldNetDaily.com, which was forced to go commercial as a result: will they stand by and let the Left make a martyr out of Jim Robinson? It's an outrage.
This legal lynching must be stopped. We hear all this guff about how "free" the Internet is supposed to be, and everybody holds endless conferences about it and puts blue "free speech" ribbons all over their sites well, now is the time to put up or shut up. This is nothing but political persecution masquerading as a civil trial: what is at stake here is not just the fate of Free Republic, but nothing less than the future of free and open discussion on the Internet. Please contact Free Republic for information on how to contribute to their legal defense and spread the word. Today it is Jim Robinson tomorrow the corporate oligarchs will lay claim to the exclusive right to direct traffic to their own sites, forbidding the posting of any links without permission or without paying a fee on the grounds that they lose money because the advertising they cram the front pages of their ill-constructed and graphic-heavy websites with will never be seen by readers. The Media Monopolists are capable of anything and the case of Jim Robinson is the proof of it. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand, before it's too late.
When this column was posted on Free Republic, the poster added his own comments, as follows:
"Hey Folks, this is important. We have to give this matter our maximum attention. Raimondo is a champion of Free Republic, and his advice deserves to be taken seriously. Free Republic, WorldNet Daily and Raimondo's own Antiwar.com are the three most important sources of information on the Internet, and the first two are under attack by the Clintonistas. Like Raimondo suggests, let's get Buchanan and Keyes on the case they have the necessary moral stature."
To which I replied:
Thanks for posting my piece, but your comment above gave me pause: gee, if the first two are under attack, it won't be long before they come for Antiwar.com! Yikes!
Seriously, though, Antiwar.com is nowhere near as big and influential as this place and WorldNetDaily, and so I doubt whether the big boys will bother.
In a different thread, someone asked: Well, what can we DO to help Free Republic fight off this political attack. I thought to myself: well, I know what I'M going to do. So naturally, I wrote an article. Aside from giving money, however, I thought about the concrete question of what action to take. I think the most important thing is to get a sympathetic member of Congress to initiate an investigation into the systematic pattern of political repression undertaken by this administration. Conservatives have a right to organize and that should be the slogan of a campaign to intiate a congressional inquiry into the harassment of "right-wing" groups, and not only by the IRS (as in the case of Joe Farah's WorldNetDaily) but by the FBI and other federal agencies under the guise of "anti-terrorism." The same thing happened in the 60s to left-wing groups remember COINTELPRO? The Y2K scare has given them another pretext hardly a day goes by without hearing of some announcement by the feds that the "threat" of "extremists" is ever-present. What crap!
But I'll tell you this if you don't fight back you'll be destroyed. For nothing less than that is the goal of the regnant elites: to obliterate all opposition and all hope of ever organizing one. If you don't fight for your right to organize, then who will? By taking this lying down, the Right (that's us, you guys) is asking to be trashed by the State apparat.
What to do? I repeat: we need to find a sympathetic member of Congress with sufficient clout to organize a full investigation that will put this administration on the hot seat and expose the ugly story of official government repression of dissent on the Right. And then we need to publicize the committee's findings, far and wide. Don't cede the civil liberties issue to the Left and the squishy liberals. We need to send a message to the Clintonians and their media handmaidens: conservatives have the right to organize and will fight to keep it.
A contribution of $20 or more gets you a copy of Justin Raimondo's Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans, a 60-page booklet packed with the kind of intellectual ammunition you need to fight the lies being put out by this administration and its allies in Congress. And now, for a limited time, donors of $40 or more receive a copy of Ronald Radosh's classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to
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