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TEI-L  February 1996

TEI-L February 1996

Subject:

--> Press Release from OmniMedia Regarding the CDA and Electronic Books

From:

Jon Noring <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Jon Noring <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 14 Feb 1996 11:42:00 CST

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (253 lines)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        Date:     February 9, 1996
                                             Contact:  Jon E. Noring
                                             Phone:    (801) 253-4037
                                             E-Mail:   [log in to unmask]
 
South Jordan, Utah
 
 
"Statement by OmniMedia Regarding the Telecommunications Reform Bill"
 
             "Its Effect on Electronic Book Publishing"
 
 
Yesterday, President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications
Reform Act.  Included in this legislation is a very controversial and
dangerous provision, the so-called "Communications Decency Act or
Amendment" (CDA).
 
The ACLU, along with several other civil rights and net advocacy groups,
such as EFF and EPIC, and joined by several businesses, are all
plaintiffs in a lawsuit just filed in Federal court to rule the CDA
unconstitutional.  The CDA is clearly an egregious assault on our
Constitutional rights and deserves to be overturned.
 
The ramifications of the CDA to civil liberties and rights are complex
and wide-ranging.  It is not the intent of this statement to outline all
of these complexities and ramifications as they are many, and is being
done by others.  Rather, we will primarily focus on the effect of the
CDA to electronic book publishing here in the U.S., particularly with
regard to direct marketing of titles over the Internet.  However, before
doing so, it is necessary to give a short summary background about the
CDA itself so its probable impact on electronic book publishing will be
easier to see.
 
In essence, the CDA makes it a felony, punishable by up to two years in
prison and a hefty fine, to either access or to disseminate, on any
public electronic network, material which is determined to be
"indecent", and that "indecent" is defined by "contemporary community
standards."
 
Not only is "indecent" still legally vague, the few court rulings define
it as being much broader than "obscene" and includes speech which the
courts have determined to be wholly protected in many other venues.
 
In addition, recent court rulings strongly imply that "contemporary
community standards" are defined at the local level.  For example, a
literary work which is acceptable in California may be considered
indecent by some local community elsewhere in the U.S.  This means,
theoretically at least, a person in California, or even outside the
U.S., who violates the "decency" of some small community in the U.S., by
simply distributing some material on the global Internet, which in his
or her hometown would be considered acceptable, could be extradited by
that small community to face felony charges, and to be judged by a jury
from that community and not their own!
 
This small community could hold the rest of the United States and even
the world hostage to their over-broad view of what is "indecent."  Not
only is it grossly unfair to any rational thinker, it is dangerous to
all of our civil liberties as it gives too much power to any small
organized fringe group, including religious groups, to trample on the
rights, practices, and desires of the silent majority in mainstream
America.
 
And, to make matters worse, the obsolete Comstock Act of 1873 was
extended by the CDA to include all electronic networks, making it a
criminal act, punishable by a 5 year prison term, to disseminate *any*
information about abortion on the Internet, even in private e-mail.
This, combined with the vagueness of "indecency", would stifle any
discussion on legitimate contemporary topics such as abortion, birth
control, AIDS prevention, GLB issues, scholarly and health-related
aspects of human sexuality, etc.
 
Under CDA, even some court rulings cannot be distributed over the
Internet since they contain one or more of the "seven words" which the
"Pacifica" court ruling determined were "indecent".  Thus, the
"Pacifica" ruling itself is banned from distribution on the Internet
since it lists these "seven words"!  And let's not forget the "Roe vs.
Wade" decision on abortion -- it, too, cannot be legally distributed on
the Internet, at least by the strictest interpretation of the CDA.
 
Clearly the CDA is a gross violation to our First Amendment right of
Free Speech as well as our socially-accepted right for all citizens to
be able to access and obtain information, including court rulings, in
the most convenient way existing at the time.  Free exchange of
information is one of the cornerstones of democracy.
 
The effect of the CDA, should it prevail in the courts (which is
fortunately doubtful), would also be a major setback to the new and
rapidly growing electronic book industry here in the U.S.  It might also
lead to the eventual domination of publishing by Europe and Japan,
though this is admittedly more debatable.  Right now the U.S. enjoys a
commanding dominance in publishing.
 
Clearly, in the absence of CDA or similar restrictions, the future of
electronic book publishing is very promising.  Already we are seeing
significant growth of the electronic book publishing industry;
OmniMedia is one of several pioneering electronic book publishers, and
new ones are coming "online" every month.  Some of the major print
publishers are beginning to venture into this area as well.  As
technology advances, particularly in high resolution and inexpensive
flat screen displays, it is only a matter of time, some say in as little
as 15 to 20 years, when more electronic books will be sold worldwide
than their bound paper counterparts.
 
In addition, the continual upgrading of our "Information Superhighway"
to higher and higher speed and capacity makes it not only possible, but
also very attractive (to both publisher and consumer alike) for
electronic books to be directly marketed to the consumer via the
Internet.  This is already being considered by the multi-billion dollar
entertainment industry for the sale and distribution of audio recordings
and movies (note that the CDA puts a damper on this.)  Any rational
thinking person would see the immense value in this means of
distributing information and entertainment of all types.
 
OmniMedia and a few other publishers now distribute and sell e-books
directly over the Internet via the World Wide Web (WWW) and are finding
it profitable because it is very convenient for the consumer and
significantly reduces the overhead costs of production, marketing and
distribution, which, with free- market competition, the savings will
pass on to the consumer.
 
It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the CDA would ban
the electronic distribution of a large fraction of the books that are
published today (it would not be surprising if over half of all books
would be deemed "indecent" by the "seven words" criteria alone, not to
mention the more intangible and uncertain aspects of what else
constitutes "indecency", and by whom.)  Therefore, the CDA has a
profound chilling effect on the use of the Internet to distribute such
material and, in practice, will not allow this method of distribution to
mature in the U.S., to the loss of both the consumer and the publishing
industry.
 
Instead, publishers will still have to rely on the traditional way to
market both paper and electronic books which is much more inefficient
and expensive.  Ultimately, it is a major blow to consumers who, in a
CDA-free world, would be able to purchase e-books at lower cost than at
present and who would have the convenience of rapid delivery of any
titles available on the market right to their home.  It would also
greatly benefit publishers in ways that would take too long to discuss
here.  The CDA is a damaging blow to electronic book publishing here in
the U.S.
 
(As an aside, in a similar manner, many mainstream magazines would also
be banned from Internet distribution.  The rapidly escalating cost of
high- quality "glossy" paper is making Internet distribution extremely
attractive.  But of course the passage of the CDA puts a stop to this as
it does electronic book distribution over the Internet.)
 
One could argue that the U.S. publishers could suitably encrypt or
password protect their e-books allowing them to be distributed on the
Internet and bypass CDA restrictions.  But the current CDA is not so
forgiving -- the CDA makes no distinction in what form the information
is distributed.  If the content of any e-book is deemed to be "indecent"
by some small community as mentioned above, it makes no difference if it
is encrypted or written in Swahili, or even if it is distributed on an
electronic network where only adults are allowed access since the CDA
covers *all* public electronic networks, no matter how subscribership to
the networks is configured (the CDA does this, of course, to "protect
our children", who must be so cunning as to be able to break into any
closed network and to decrypt messages even the NSA could not decrypt.)
 
And all the while the U.S. publishing industry is restricted to
marketing books the "old-fashioned way", our European and Japanese
friends will not be so restricted.  They will enjoy the ability and
advantages of marketing directly over the Internet in their own
countries and so will clearly dominate there as well as developing the
infrastructure to do so, getting a large technological jump over U.S.
publishers.  How this will effect the current supremacy the U.S. has in
publishing is debatable, since it can be argued that it is still a level
playing field -- the U.S. publishers can market their e-books over the
Internet outside the U.S., and the rest of the world has to market their
e-books the "old-fashioned way" within U.S. borders.
 
But it is hard to imagine that the greater freedom and flexibility
enjoyed by the Europeans and Japanese, as well as getting a
technological jump, will not eventually translate into gaining market
dominance and hurting the U.S.  publishing industry.  And they are
formidable competitors:  the Japanese domination in the U.S. market for
consumer electronics and automobiles should serve as a warning of what
could happen in the publishing field if the CDA is not overturned or
significantly amended as soon as possible.
 
Our competitors are looking for any crack in U.S. resolve to fully
compete against us in the international marketplace, and the CDA is an
obvious major crack.  Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs are at
stake here, and this was not even considered when the ill-written CDA
was silently slipped into the Telecommunications Reform Act without any
public input before Congress.
 
And let's not forget the U.S. consumer, who will also be hurt by the CDA
restrictions as pointed out above.
 
Thus, OmniMedia urges Congress to trash the CDA and pass sane and
publicly debated legislation, and not only because it would be good for
U.S. business and consumers, but because it is morally the right thing
to do.
 
We support the right of parents to protect their children by providing
parents with the necessary software to block any Internet information
that they don't want their children to view.  This is easily done.  We
do NOT support taking away the parental right to determine what their
children should and should not view, nor do we support taking away the
parent's own rights to Free Speech on the Internet.
 
The current CDA does what the silent majority in America does not want:
allowing some faceless person in some far removed community to determine
what parents in mainstream America should and should not allow their
children to view -- it is government intrusion into the family at its
worst.  It also takes away the parents' own rights to Free Speech,
holding them and the entire U.S. public hostage to an insane piece of
legislation, and to a small minority, whose stated purposes for pushing
the CDA was to "protect our children" and to "stop child pornography"
(what American doesn't support these laudable goals?)  But the profound
and chilling ramifications of the CDA go light-years beyond these stated
purposes and suggest that the *real* motives of this small but dedicated
minority were something that mainstream Americans do not share, nor
want.
 
One day "our children" will grow up and find themselves without Free
Speech protection as well as fewer jobs, all because of the "wisdom" of
the CDA.  Without guaranteed Free Speech in all mediums, it will only be
a matter of time before we won't be able to protect our children,
either.  Free Speech is a cornerstone of democracy, and without it, our
other rights, including the Freedom of Religion, are in serious peril.
And when these rights are gone, and the U.S. is a dictatorship, it will
be *our children* who will be sent to the Gulags.  I don't know about
you, but I'd rather have my children see the "seven words" over the
Internet (which they hear all the time at school anyway) than to see
them live in a totalitarian or theocratical state.
 
The CDA is a bad piece of legislation that does not serve the public
interest.  It does not add anything useful in the legitimate fight
against child pornography and online harassment using the Internet
(another claimed reason for its existence) -- the proven and
Constitutionally tested laws we now have on the books have been shown to
be adequate to deal with the problem when law enforcement is motivated
to enforce them.  And as it should have been made clear by now, the CDA
is bad for business and very bad for U.S. economic competitiveness in
the world.
 
 
     Jon E. Noring
     President and Owner
     OmniMedia, publisher of electronic books
 
 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
OmniMedia Electronic Books | URL:  http://www.awa.com/library/omnimedia
9671 S. 1600 West St.      | Anonymous FTP:
South Jordan, UT 84095     | ftp.awa.com  /pub/softlock/pc/products/OmniMedia
801-253-4037               | E-mail:  [log in to unmask]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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