SixApart Forgets Censorship Is Bad

    July 31, 2006
    WebProNews Staff founder Mark Pincus went to Harvard Business School, not journalism school. This may have been the primary reason he was unsure if using a person’s full name to recount a sordid history was really a violation of privacy, like Typepad told him.

If he or the SixApart-employed author of a letter demanding the removal of a man’s last name from Pincus’ blog post had gone to journalism school, they’d both have known that in countries where freedom of the press is Constitutionally assured, that using Murry Gunty’s full name is on the list of acceptable practices.

In fact, he can use it as often as he likes. Murry Gunty, Murry Gunty, Murry Gunty, Murry Gunty. Yes, he can say anything he likes about Murry Gunty, as long as it’s a matter of public record, all the way down to his home address, and as long as it is true.

The name Murry Gunty, if there is a birth certificate, a Social Security card, or driver’s license is a matter of public record, whether Murry Gunty is a public figure or not. Printing Murry Gunty’s address would then become a matter of ethics, nothing more, which was the topic of Pincus’ original post about Murry Gunty.

Pincus didn’t print Murry Gunty’s address or contact information, nor did he tap a phone call or examine Murry Gunty’s email records. He simply retold a true story about a young man who cheated in an Ivy League business school election. The story was first told by Murry Gunty himself, in the school newspaper along with an apology.

It was later picked up by the Wall Street Journal, not because minor college club scandals are newsworthy, but because graduates of Harvard Business School go on to become Masters of the Corporate Universe, and Murry Gunty becomes the fodder for a fine discussion on Harvard’s stance on ethical business practices.

But that’s a whole other matter. The issue at hand is whether or not is it ethical, or sensible, for Typepad to attempt to censor a well known blogger after misinterpreting the company’s own terms of service. It is also important to make clear under what parameters a journalist (at the end of the day a blogger is a brand of journalist, with or without the proper training) operates.

From the SixApart letter:

I’ve recently been notified that one of your blog posts contains a small violation of TypePad’s Terms of Service. The blog post located at contains the name “Murry Gunty.” Unfortunately, because of the combined information in your post, this together with the rest of the post is enough to be considered an invasion of Mr. Gunty’s privacy.

If you could please remove Mr. Gunty’s last name, then it would no longer be enough information to be considered invasive of his privacy. I would very much appreciate if you could edit out his last name in the next 48 hours.

Feedster founder and Ookles-promiser Scott Johnson examined Typepad’s terms of service on his blog. It doesn’t say anything about using a person’s full name, not even Mr. Gunty’s. It does mention defamation, which only applies if a statement is untrue. It also mentions contact information like phone numbers and addresses, neither of which Mr. Pincus published. Since Pincus is not in apparent violation of the ToS, was it that SixApart just didn’t want him talking about Murry Gunty?

In answer to Mr. Pincus’ question about whether a company has a legal right to stop the publication of a damning story about Murry Gunty, well, as a hosted service, they can dictate their terms of service as they see fit, as long as the story is published through their service. But it could be mighty stupid to censor a blogger. It just doesn’t look good.

If this were a court of law (I’m not a lawyer), and if Mr. Gunty wished to sue you for defamation, or just because he didn’t like what you wrote, his case would get nowhere because of the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Constitution. If it’s true, then it’s fair game.

And remember, matters of opinion cannot be argued as true or untrue. For example, when you said, “Murry was one of those annoying kids that was hated by his peers and loved by his bosses, also called suckups,” that is a matter of opinion, and is protected speech.

Just like I can say, “I think SixApart was phenomenally stupid if they tried to censor a blogger.” That’s just my opinion and I’m allowed to say it.

It has been over 48 hours since Pincus received the demand to remove Murry Gunty’s last name, and the post still remains.

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