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Thursday, January 19, 2012

SOPA, Your Child's School, and Vietnam

War Coverage from the 1960's....
In 1969 students at an Iowa school came to school wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam war.  The result of this was a supreme court case now know as "Tinker" (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)).  The upshot of Tinker is that  school officials must demonstrate that “the forbidden conduct would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.”

Hence the black arm bands were allowed because they did not "materially and substantially interfere" with the discipline at the school.  Did they cause discussion?  Sure.  But education still occurred.

Why do I bring this up?

Because social media and the modern age has rankled educational professionals today in the same way...

Consider this case: In Pennsylvania the Blue Mountain School District suspended a 14-year-old student (J. S. in the linked opinion), who mocked the principal.  She created a fake MySpace profile that insinuated the principal was a pedophile and sex addict.

This was done at home, user a family computer, without the knowledge of her parents, on her own time.  Apparently J. S. had had a run in with said principle recently and was upset.

The myspace profile used an image of the principal taken from a school sponsored web site.  Though initially public J. S. made the profile private after a friend notified her that it was publicly visible.  (The opinion does not say whether the image used was a link or a "cut and paste."

Eventually the principal discovered that the myspace existed and demanded J. S. print out a copy and bring it to school.  J. S. complied.  As a result of J. S. bringing the print out it was decided J. S. would be given a 10-day suspension (the printout disrupted the operation of the school in a material way).

At this point the principal considered filing legal charges against J. S. and ultimately her parents for a variety of charges.

(Personally I wonder why this is not fair use of the image as parody... especially considering what people say on TV today.)

Ultimately the US Supreme Court refused to hear this case leaving a lower court decision stand that said that the school had violated J. S. s right to free speech under the first Amendment of the Constitution.

However schools today consider that any speech by a student that "materially and substantially interfere(s)" with the school, no matter when or where its made, as a basis for action (even legal action).

To date courts have used Tinker as the decision point in considering these cases and use Tinker to block the schools efforts to expand their reach beyond the Constitution.

But schools want this to change.

So how is this like the SOPA debate?

For one thing I see the "schools" as overreaching substantially.  Students, particularly in middle and high school, are developing a sense of themselves and are likely to express this in a variety of was that might be considered offensive or unpalatable by school officials.  However, as the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) says, schools cannot limit free speech.

One imagines that today's principal's making hefty six figure salaries would have the required training to deal with a clever 14 year old girl - but perhaps not.

SOPA is in effect like the schools reaching out into the student's life to control it - except the control is your behavior on the internet.

And I see this as wrong.

Just like if I am stopped by the police why should they immediately suspect me of drunk driving?  I don't drive drunk.  But because many police stops involve this they treat everyone like a drunk driver.

SOPA says you're a thief just because some others are.

And in this case J. S. must give up her rights just because she is a student.

I was in high school from 1971 to 1975.  During this time those that graduated ahead of my class went to Vietnam - which by some was considered tantamount to a death sentence.  So sitting around in study hall you had a lot of 18 year old guys whose next stop was literally, as the song says, "Vietnam."

People had a lot to say about this and the point of education at that time seem to me to be developing a model of "mutual respect" for opinions about the war as well as respecting the job of the school.  The school knew full well where these boys were going after graduation.

I lived in a rural area and there were no real protests or marches.  (Though there was a bombing at the University of Wisconsin earlier.)

Before Vietnam there was no televised war coverage - WWII and Korea had only news reels (heavily edited by government and studios).

TV was the disrupting influence (like "social media" is today).  Had there been no TV coverage of Vietnam on the nightly news I doubt very much things would have been the same.

But the same generation that graduated in those years is now in a position of power in the US.

And instead of the notion of "free speech" that was used to ensure the public knew about Vietnam and saw the reality of it we have one of censorship - probably by the same folks who openly protested the war forty years ago.

The very thing that people died at Kent State for - free speech - is now being threatened by that same generation via SOPA.

How troubling is that?

My guess is the 60's rebels have now grown comfortable with their big incomes, much like the "military industrial complex" of the 1960's, and is acting to "protect their interests."

The bottom line is new technologies will be developed regardless, like Facebook or mySpace.

And 14 year old girls will find a way to use them in unexpected ways (just like sexting and cell phones).

These new ideas will blossom into the "norm" of the next generation: in a few years kids won't remember a time without Facebook, for example.

SOPA is just a means to control - and a disingenuous one at that.  No one is requiring movie studios to put movies on DVDs so they can be RIPed and burned or Torrented.  Yet the law is trying to control us even if we ourselves do not do that.

Just like the principal is trying to control was J. S. does with her own resources.

Just like those in the radical 60's fought against with the military industrial complex.  The war, like the revenues of DVD's to Hollywood Studios today, generated profits in the military industrial complex - profits that those in charge fought to keep. 

Studios could keep their films only on actual film and supply no DVDs, strip search those who have access to the movie during production to ensure that no illegitimate copies are made, but they don't because there's too much money to be made.

So they work to take your rights away instead.

In the 1960's TV coverage changed how war was viewed, just like the internet today is changing the landscape of copyright.

My how what goes around comes around...


  1. So under freedom of speech you'd have no issue if someone were to create a spoof Lexigraph site, spouting the merits of and hawking lame software. One person's innocent joke is another's defamation of character. And attempting to prove negative financial impact? Why that wasn't being malicious, just playing a prank.

    1. A parody is perfectly legal and protected as "fair use" under copyright law - so no I would have no problem.