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Aphelion Editorial 073

August 2003

by Dan L. Hollifield

The Usual Rant from the Aphelion Senior Editor

Spam is on the rise, viruses abound, protect your computer or face having it messed up by some faceless entity! Fire! Fear! Foes! Alert! Man the Barricades! The barbarians are at the gate! Harlan Ellison is suing AOL over information that was transfered through their machinery in an attempt to block plagiarism of his work!

OK, relax, its not that bad. I've just been more aware of these things since my recent virus attack a couple of months ago. There's not a day that goes by now that I don't get a alert that some virus or other has been blocked from entering my computer, due to my ISP's anti-virus/anti-spam programs, and the similar programs I now have installed on my main computer. My spam is now up to something close to 450 e-mails a day, with only 3 to 12 non-spam messages a day. My telephone rings every few minutes with telemarketers, whose calls get killed by my answering machine most of the time. Life is rapidly becoming a series of filters that we use to buffer ourselves from the nastier elements of our daily lives in civilization. And Harlan ought to be able to sue AOL to force them to remove the stolen works and provide the names of the offenders to the authorities if the pilfered stories were posted on an AOL website. That sort of thing needs to be stopped, quickly!

But Harlan's swiped stories were posted on Usenet, not AOL. AOL only carried the files from uploaded to destination, like a phone company carrying a call. Should the local phone company be held responsible for a crank call made through it's system? This time, I think Harlan is chasing the wrong game. His lawyers have led him on a pursuit of the deepest pockets, not the guilty parties. If Harlan wins this one, every ISP would be open to lawsuits over the content of information that simply passes through it. That's as if New York City were to be sued for allowing the September 11th terrorists to operate an airplane over the city's environs!

If you are fans of Harlan's, please write him a nice e-mail or letter asking him to tell his lawyers to go after the people who stole his work rather than the people who carried the signal. Any lawsuit against AOL should be for hosting stolen works, not hosting e-mail or file transfers. Even if you aren't a fan of Harlan's, a polite note of disagreement with his lawyer's aims wouldn't be wasted effort. Despite his reputation, Harlan Ellison will listen to reasoned, polite arguments. He simply doesn't suffer fools gladly, that's all. I don't have his e-mail address to offer, but I'm sure that there is a public address that one could use. Google it, if necessary. And remember at all times that Harlan is doing this because he wants to end online plagiarism of everyone's work, not because he wants to line his pockets. He has always been a "take no bull" sort of guy, and this was a personal affront to him.

If the truth were to be told, I'm not even that big a fan of Harlan, but I admit that he deserves respect as much as any other writer who has placed his work before the public in any medium. AOL needs to be held accountable for plagiarism posted on the websites that it hosts, to the extent that AOL needs to provide information to the authorities for legal action when plagiarism has been found in one of their hosted websites. AOL is the world's worst ISP when it comes to forcing the removal of plagiarised work, and they need their noses thumped hard, I agree. But to pursue them when the guilty party is clearly someone else is not good for anyone online.

Thanks for your time,


I now return you to your regularly scheduled reading...


2003 Dan L. Hollifield

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