March 09, 2005

Other: Bonehead Rulings We Have Known

Okay, tell me how this makes sense:

One Mister Cheickh Bangoura, late of Ghana now of Ontario, is suing the Washington Post for a story they reported on in 1997. The story involved an official of the UN being accused of financial and sexual improprieties while on the job in West Africa. In 2000, Mr. Bangoura decided that his reputation was being tarnished in his new home because of the story, and launched a $9 million lawsuit.

Why three years later?

Because, he claimed, people could still read the story on the Post's web site. Here he was, trying to start a new life, and these ghosts from the past were still hanging around to torment him. Now, the funny thing is, to read the Washington Post archives, one needs a membership or money to access. The Post has a grand total of SEVEN on-line subscribers from Ontario, and only one has ever bothered paying to see the story that references Mr. Bangoura's past.

No matter: the potential that people could read the story was somehow damaging to his reputation. Makes me wonder who the one person who looked up the story was, eh?

Now, the expected response from the judge (as it would be from most people) should have been to tell him to suck it up. He was removed from the UN Drug Control Program because of "misconduct and mismanagement", according to the UN themselves. So if he was going to sue anyone for libel, it should be the accusers. More importantly, how on earth could a court in Ontario have any form of jurisdiction over a publication in the United States. It doesn't make sense. Right?

Apparently not.

The judge decided that since the internet "arrives" in whatever location you choose to access it from, tose locations are more relevant than the actual point of publication. This means you can sue anyone from anywhere, which means that some enterprising countries with very strict publication rights could become a new destination of choice for frivilous lawsuits to be filed. And some of the poorer ones could change their laws to suit (so to speak) these suits. For a certain percentage, of course...

But even outside of this, lets face it: limiting what stories can be printed on the net is going to massively restrict what information will be available to the population at large: there's a whole lot that I haven't looked at in the world, and the vast majority of it I'll never get around to, but I'd like the chance to do so.

If this suit succeeds, it won't be a case so much of rewriting the history books: it will instead limit what goes into them in the first place. Right, wrong or just plain stupid, information should never be limited by fear.


posted by Thursday at 2:57 pm


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