Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Warren Kinsella aggresses against the property rights of others

A Valentine's Day announcement, via Nealenews.

Word is out that Warren Kinsella, new media columnist for the National Post, is once again threatening bloggers with his lawyers. Seems his poor choice to associate with Liberals in the past is coming back to haunt him, so he decides to sue a blogger from Ottawa for Libel. He seeks $600,000 in damages.

Kinsella involves himself in politics and has his own blog and trolls the comment section of other blogs. He frequently insults people, employing gutter language and ad hominem arguments when faced with the irrationality of most of his positions and assertions. As with all individuals who make themselves known publically, especially such outspoken people like Kinsella, he will be talked about. And if he doesn't like what people are saying, he is free to refute them, on his own blog, on the blogs of others who are willing to grant him rambling space, and any other publication that chooses to publish his words. Unfortunately, that is not enough for Warren. Permanent links are not available:

...I believe there are reasonable and proper limits on human expression.

...I believe that words and images have power. Words and images have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, kill.

...I believe that we are entitled, as a society, to sanction (civilly or criminally) those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others - as with laws relating to the propagation of hate, or laws prohibiting child pornography, or defamation codes, or laws designed to sanction pornography that promotes violence against women and children.
How is a "society" entitled to anything? Neither words, nor cartoons "kill" or harm - people do. And why do women and children have more rights than males?

I've never read Ottawa Watch before. I'm too busy to read many of the blogs I enjoy visiting, let alone other blogs, hitherto undiscovered, that might interest me. With all due respect to Mark Bourrie of Ottawa Watch, how many people have read the particular post in question? Did it get a good ranking in google? Does Warren Kinsella really believe that a post on one blog, among hundreds of millions of blogs, entitles him to $600, 000 in compensation? Also at issue is Bourrie's addition to Warren Kinsella's wikipedia entry, an online encylopedia which allows users to alter the content. Check your facts people and if you don't agree, say why or present your alteration.

I'll be adding Ottawa Watch to the blogroll.

Coincidently, I have recently been reading Murray Rothbard's thoughts on the legality of Libel suits.

Murray Rothbard, "The Ethics of Liberty", Chapter 16:
Does Smith have the right to disseminate false information about Jones? In short, should “libel” and “slander” be illegal in the free society?

And yet, once again, how can they be? Smith has a property right to the ideas or opinions in his own head; he also has a property right to print anything he wants and disseminate it. He has a property right to say that Jones is a “thief” even if he knows it to be false, and to print and sell that statement. The counter-view, and the current basis for holding libel and slander (especially of false statements) to be illegal is that every man has a “property right” in his own reputation, that Smith’s falsehoods damage that reputation, and that therefore Smith’s libels are invasions of Jones’s property right in his reputation and should be illegal. Yet, again, on closer analysis this is a fallacious view. For everyone, as we have stated, owns his own body; he has a property right in his own head and person. But since every man owns his own mind, he cannot therefore own the minds of anyone else. And yet Jones’s “reputation” is neither a physical entity nor is it something contained within or on his own person. Jones’s “reputation” is purely a function of the subjective attitudes and beliefs about him contained in the minds of other people. But since these are beliefs in the minds of others, Jones can in no way legitimately own or control them. Jones can have no property right in the beliefs and minds of other people.

Let us consider, in fact, the implications of believing in a property right in one’s “reputation.” Suppose that Brown has produced his mousetrap, and then Robinson comes out with a better one. The “reputation.” of Brown for excellence in mousetraps now declines sharply as consumers shift their attitudes and their purchases, and buy Robinson’s mousetrap instead. Can we not then say, on the principle of the “reputation” theory, that Robinson has injured the reputation of Brown, and can we not then outlaw Robinson from competing with Brown? If not, why not? Or should it be illegal for Robinson to advertise, and to tell the world that his mousetrap is better?5 In fact, of course, people’s subjective attitudes and ideas about someone or his product will fluctuate continually, and hence it is impossible for Brown to stabilize his reputation by coercion; certainly it would be immoral and aggressive against other people’s property right to try. Aggressive and criminal, then, either to outlaw one’s competition or to outlaw false libels spread about one or one’s product.

We can, of course, readily concede the gross immorality of spreading false libels about another person. But we must, nevertheless, maintain the legal right of anyone to do so. Pragmatically, again, this situation may well redound to the benefit of the people being libelled. For, in the current situation, when false libels are outlawed, the average person tends to believe that all derogatory reports spread about people are true, “otherwise they’d sue for libel.” This situation discriminates against the poor, since poorer people are less likely to file suits against libelers. Hence, the reputations of poorer or less wealthy persons are liable to suffer more now, when libel is outlawed, then they would if libel were legitimate. For in that libertarian society since everyone would know that false stories are legal, there would be far more skepticism on the part of the reading or listening public, who would insist on far more proof and believe fewer derogatory stories than they do now. Furthermore, the current system discriminates against poorer people in another way; for their own speech is restricted, since they are less likely to disseminate true but derogatory knowledge about the wealthy for fear of having costly libel suits filed against them. Hence, the outlawing of libel harms people of limited means in two ways: by making them easier prey for libels and by hampering their own dissemination of accurate knowledge about the wealthy.

Finally, if anyone has the right knowingly to spread false libels about someone else, then, a fortiori, he of course has the right to disseminate those large numbers of statements about others which are in the fuzzy zone of not being clear or certain whether or not the statements are true or false.

10 comments:

Pietr said...

Rothbard's analysis seems to seperate 'Justice' from 'Truth'.
Not recommended.

Pietr said...

Nevertheless he is right in saying that 'libel' and 'slander' are not crimes.
There should never be damages or convictions, there should simply be a statement of truth, publicly, for or against the plaintiff.

Lisa said...

Rothbard's analysis seems to seperate 'Justice' from 'Truth'.

It is never just to force someone to tell the truth nor is it just to extract payment from the liar. It is reprehensible and immoral to tell lies, especially when those lies might have adverse effects on another person, but the only legitimate recourse we have is to refute those lies publically.

basil said...

Unfortunately, that puts the burden of proof on the accused.

By the way, I'm still waiting for you to prove you didn't screw my cat with a strap-on.

basil said...

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Kinsella's mother still wears army boots.

Lisa said...

basil:

Unfortunately, that puts the burden of proof on the accused.

The point is that utterances are not crimes. Individuals receiving the information are responsible for checking the facts. Perhaps the people believing the lie should be sued?

I refer you to this passage from above:

For everyone, as we have stated, owns his own body; he has a property right in his own head and person. But since every man owns his own mind, he cannot therefore own the minds of anyone else. And yet Jones’s “reputation” is neither a physical entity nor is it something contained within or on his own person. Jones’s “reputation” is purely a function of the subjective attitudes and beliefs about him contained in the minds of other people. But since these are beliefs in the minds of others, Jones can in no way legitimately own or control them. Jones can have no property right in the beliefs and minds of other people.

basil said...

Lisa:

Sue for stupidity? Are you trying to turn the justice system on its head!!!

As for my cat: I don't care if she's consenting, don't go near her with that thing strapped to your waist again!

Lisa said...

You are free to engage in your sick fantasies Basil. The burden of proof rests with the accuser.

Pietr said...

'Defamation' requires that the defendant prove his innocence by proving that he told the truth.
The loonies who threatened me with a law suit actually tried to arrogate general remarks to themselves.
No names were mentioned, so there was absolutely no sense in which any form of defamation had taken place, true or not.
Anyway,Lisa, no need to jump down my throat over an observation.
It's all in my second comment.

Pietr said...

Oh, and I beg to differ;Justice is exactly forcing someone to tell the truth.
Whether legal or not.