Electronic Frontier Foundation letter to the Pacifica Foundation board of directors
Board of Directors
2390 Champlain St. NW Washington, DC 20009
March 1, 2001
An open letter to the Board of Directors of the Pacifica Foundation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
It has come to the attention of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that counsel for the Pacifica Foundation (Pacifica) has been systematically threatening websites that are critical of Pacifica or some of your member stations with domain name lawsuits. While EFF is not representing any of those sites being threatened at the present time, we have been a vocal opponent to such anti-speech tactics and are representing defendants in a similar lawsuit filed by the Ford Motor Company. (See http://www.eff.org/Legal/Cases/Ford_v_GreatDomains/.)
We write to you today because it has also come to our attention that you are displaying EFF's blue ribbon on the homepage of your website, www.pacifica.org. We are proud of our Blue Ribbon Campaign, and we are happy to see that Pacifica, at least in theory, believes in the principles of free speech that our blue ribbon symbolizes.
EFF's blue ribbon is displayed on tens of thousands of websites throughout the Internet as a symbol of support for the essential human right of free speech, a fundamental building block of a free society. This right was affirmed by the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791 and by the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Blue Ribbon Campaign has been one of EFF's ways of raising awareness of online censorship and freedom issues, both locally and globally.
We at EFF feel that free speech is such an important part of our humanity that no one, no company and no government, should have the right to abridge it. We also think that free speech has responsibilities such as being truthful and non-oppressive. We don't always agree with the speech we protect. So long as the blue ribbon is used simply to support our campaign, we would not bar its use based on whether or not we agree with the opinions of the user. That would contradict what the symbol is about. We would be concerned if the ribbon were used to imply endorsement of parties or ideas we don't support.
EFF believes that Internet domain names impact greatly on this fundamental right to free speech. It is through Internet protocol addresses and domain names that individuals and organizations place their speech on the Internet and give titles to that speech, or to collections of that speech. And it is through these addresses that others locate that speech to read and use it. A domain name is in some ways like a book title. A company does not have the right to stop publication of a book with their name in the title which says something negative about them, so why they should they be able to stop an online publication with what amounts to the same kind of title.
When individuals or groups choose to use domain names that identify things of which they are critical, that is a protected free speech right. Courts have upheld this use of speech as protected time and time again, and courts have upheld utilizing domain names for this purpose. It is only when there is true confusion that courts have intervened and ruled that free speech does not rule the day. The question EFF poses is "How should critical web sites name themselves, if not in reference to what they criticize?" It's a serious question all people trying to block a domain should answer.
The sites that you have targeted are not confusing anyone. You seem to be systematically targeting them because you disagree with the criticisms they make of Pacifica. Pacifica has a history of being an ally of free speech and EFF asks you to be guided by your own mission statement, which states that you will "promote freedom of the press and serve as a forum for various viewpoints." We have come into the age of an electronic press and EFF asks you to promote these same values on the Internet. Though EFF is not taking a position on the issues that caused this domain name dispute, we urge you to do the right thing and have your lawyers cease attempts at censorship while the courts of law and public opinion come to their conclusions.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Together, we can ensure that the civil liberties we hold so dear are protected in this digital arena.
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