Retrospective censorship
On Behalf Of Ross Anderson
Sent: 08 May 2001 13:02
Subject: Retrospective censorship
A UK judge has recently awarded himself the power to alter a newspaper's online archives to remove an alleged libel. This must be among the worst news we've had on the infopolicy front for some time.

If UK online archives are vulnerable to lawyers while US archives are not, then why on earth should anybody publish anything in the UK? It's not as if there is no bias already - I had my book published by Wiley New York rather thah Wiley Chichester because the New York people are much more on the ball - but with this news I wouldn't even consider Wiley Chichester for my next book, even if they learned to use email and to ship review copies on time. Having the electronic versions of my book subject to retrospective censorship, at the whim of any vexatious litigant, is simply intolerable.

If this judge isn't overturned by the appeal court, or by Parliament, then Tony's promise to make Britain the best place in the world for e-commerce will become a total laughing stock. After all, most of e-commerce is about publishing in one form or another.

Five years ago I wrote a paper (`The Eternity Service') one of whose assumptions was that online archives might become subject to censorship. The main action since then has been on copyright rather than censorship, and the paper's main spin-offs are services like gnutella. But now the vultures come home to roost.


Position impossible
Times editor Peter Stothard says a libel case against his paper could result in publications with internet sites facing eternal damnation by the courts.

Peter Stothard
Monday May 7, 2001