This is the story of how an unethical individual, who regards fundamental rights differently as applied to him and to others, can manage to frighten a company to the extent of making them think about limiting his clients’ freedom of expression, with a simple home-made “cease and desist” email threat. No China, no Cuba, no Iran involved. Just Spain in 2009. Too sad to be true.
I wrote it in Spanish because it is interesting for my group of study of Spanish and European Information Technology Law. I’ve translated it here for anyone interested in Spanish law, jurisprudence and international case law about new technologies and freedom of expression, a fundamental right within the Spanish Rechtsstaat.
FIRST.- I write blog posts, i.e. I publish my own dissertations or thoughts online. I personally installed and configured the webserver at home in a computer of mine. The webserver is located in Spain, I use databases to store the content and logs to store every possible information of visits, with a backup system to hold copies of weekly changes. I am a Spanish citizen, I live in Spain and I always wrote from Spanish territory (=from Spain-based IPs). I have studied or am studying Law, Economics and Medicine, although I cannot be considered an expert in any field. My hobbies are languages and computer science.
SECOND.- This is an account of events (proven with links and quotes) between july 2007 and may 2009:
- A blogger, Mr. Glen Gordon – who describes himself a “linguistic expert” and tries to make it clear every time he writes (but discusses his theories in blogs instead of professional peer-reviewed journals) criticized our Dnghu project in a post on his blog Paleoglot (about an “Indo-Tyrrhenian” or “Paleo-Aegean” brain fart thing). The blog is run in blogspot.com by Blogger, part of Google, Inc. services, a company based on the U.S. and which wants its contracts to be subjected to U.S. law, but whose webservers and data centers are located worldwide “in the dozens” (after CFO George Reyes), including Europe (from where content is served to European visitors), so that it is subject to European law; Google certainly has backup copies of what is written in its blogs. Mr. Gordon wrote -as far as I know – from Canada, and is probably a Canadian citizen.
- I found visits coming from his post, read it, and answered him commenting in his own (U.S.-based) blog, criticizing his (obvious) lack of knowledge about us and the project, as he hadn’t even read the book. It seemed to him enough to read a page of the grammar (only a linguistic root was discussed) to draw a conclusion about us on politics and linguistics; very professional for a professional linguist indeed. Anyway, as always, I made clear that any effort to get to know the project and to help us is welcome – but that much more should be made to write a fair critic about us or the project.
- The blogger, Mr. Gordon, apparently considered my answer somehow insulting (he criticizes but expects not to be criticized?), and wrote still another dedicated post in his blog about me and Dnghu – for him all associates were, from that moment on, equally responsible for my words -, calling me a “dogmatic relativist”, talking about my “ignorance”, my “arrogance”, how I “misspelled” the name Gąsiorowski (that was very important to show my “ignorance”), again referring to “proto-politics”, etc. He also writes the following comment without giving a clue about my “race” or “racist” remarks:
The problem is that they’ve taken this proto-language obsession into the realm of politics by believing that they can make this a lingua franca of the European Union, and considering Nazi history which sought to make Indo-European the “language of the original Aryans”, this is the DUMBEST and most insulting thing you can do to other fellow Europeans, especially those that are non-IE speaking (Finns, Hungarians, Basque, Maltese, etc., etc., etc.)
So utterly dumb, in fact, especially after the continuing stupid comments of Carlos Quiles on my site and on Dnghu about his views on race, language and IE, that I’m personally convinced that Dnghu.com is a racist organization masquerading as non-racist to incite conflict for the personal enjoyment of its member(s)
So, pure opinion and references to me and Dnghu being “nazi” and “racist”, no reading about our project or the book; just a great interpretation of my personality, knowledge and culture and about my (and Dnghu’s) “racism” from a single comment in a language which is not my mother tongue and a project that is my hobby – apparently professional linguistics today offers a great psychological and cultural background to make personal profiles and judge how “nazi” or “racist” a person or organization is. Impressive. Too naïve to be taken seriously, no need to answer. No need even to investigate U.S. or Canadian law, or Google Blogspot service rules, as the webservers that repeat the information are located in Europe. However (I thought), if they (the U.S., Canada, or Google) want to tolerate that behaviour, I can’t do anything, just as if an integrist calls me “racist infidel” or something in a website of a fundamentalist Islamic country. That should be an internal problem of foreign companies and countries and their respect for human rights.
- Impatient for me to read it, Glen commented on the first Dnghu’s blog post he found (based on Spain, subject to Spanish law) again and again about me and Dnghu being this and that. I warned him about spamming the website, and I eventually had to delete his multiple (unnecessary) links to Paleoglot included in each comment. He then behaved like a common troll, seemed to be furious, trying to ignite flames for some days, also using a newer post to comment, so that others could read him in more posts, no matter how unrelated the main subject of the post was. He insulted me and the association (based on Spain) again, using repeatedly adjectives like “nazi”, “racist”, or referring to the “genocide” or holocaust of jews, or the “violence” of “the catholics” in Canada: “you’ve thoroughly proved you are a kind of Nazi”, “And like a Nazi you adopt non-mainstream emotional rhetoric like the outdated Kurgan Hypothesis”, “your whole ‘organization’ is nonsensical”, “your Aryan organization”, “you devalue non-IE-speaking European citizens”, “Dnghu is a sinister organization”, “[t]he fact that they [we] specifically chose Indo-European is suspect considering Nazi history”, “they will welcome you into their community just as they would anyone named Adolf Hitler”, etc. He also judged my mental health and capacity (remember, only with his “linguistic expertise” background and with me having made at the time two or three comments) using descriptions like “your disturbing psychoses”, “your delusions”, a “fascist-like desire”, “naive fool”, “idiocy”, “a fool from Dnghu”, “you lack the maturity to address criticism”, “Carlos doesn’t seem to be capable of doing anything but putting his foot where his dnghu should be”, “you masochistically delight in your own shame”, etc.; and, again, “ignorance” based on another misspelling, “Algonquinian” instead of Algonquian. A pain in the ass, but after good old just make fun of the troll’s comments and you can’t spam us policies, maintained for some days (as a good professional in linguistics Glen had only a week or so to lose insulting us in our websites, still some more time to comment about me and Dnghu in his own blog), he became tired and left. Not without posting an especially interesting comment regarding his future behaviour (on how good it is that the Internet is free for everyone to know how we really are by reading what we write):
Regardless of the fact that you’ve erased some of the above comments by others that you couldn’t handle, while inventing others in mockery of me [note the unproven conspiranoic claims], all of your own words are spreading across the internet like wildfire right now thanks to Google and other search engines which keep long-lasting records of previous states of webpages through their caches. So I can easily predict that any future readers will come to associate your verbal vomit here with Dnghu and be forever sick to their stomach
- Some months later, after some normal critic comments about him and his work in the blog Language Hat blog, he showed a similar aggressive, insulting, and then (in his own blog) paranoid behaviour, even looking for conspiracies from everyone involved in the online conversation that had taken place in Language Hat. Some linguists, who knew him from his participation in linguistic forums, made very precise descriptions of his previous similar behaviour in other discussions, some even trying to ascertain which exact personal disorder made him interpret (especially written) answers and critics always as offences. Someone mentioned “Asperger syndrome”.
- I discovered that his second post, his criticism about me and Dnghu, was almost on top of the Google search results for “Dnghu” (as people talk about Indo-European language or Modern Indo-European, not about Dnghu or me personally…), and I decided to write about “Glen Gordon” and “Paleoglot” to balance out. I wrote about him and his aggressive, irrational reactions and linked to his humiliating comments about others and to his paranoid and narcissistic features shown on Dnghu, Language Hat and Paleoglot blogs, and warned other Internet surfers about him, asserting he is “mentally unstable”*. No opinion, no insult, not even a precise medical diagnosis – simple deduction from his behaviour which anyone could have made with little knowledge on Psychiatry or Psychology, and warning others about him: something is wrong with this guy, be careful if you happen to mix with him online, because he takes normal criticism as offending, and could behave as an infuriated troll. A reference to the description of him linked to “Asperger”, not valuable for the Asperger diagnosis itself (I obviously didn’t agree with it, because I contradicted it), but good for other people to know about his previous impressions of being conspired against, and about how he reacts when criticised.
- He commented the following:
The rhetorical smeer [sic] campaign against me in this article speaks for itself. When you’re capable of talking on the subject of linguistics instead of wishywashy personal politics and hearsay, let me know, kids.
Note the misspelling, which accounts for “ignorance” according to this expert in linguistics dedicated to the serious field of “Indo-Tyrrhenian” – especially given that English is his mother tongue, while mine is Spanish. Note that he thinks it is a ‘smeer’ campaign: not just a post from me, but a whole “campaign”, a kind of sinister plan orchestrated against him. Note also the unavoidable “I am an expert in linguistics and you aren’t” thing. Note that “we” (i.e. me and my invisible friends) are all “kids”. Paranoid and narcissistic features – just deduction. But no borderline, no overreaction, no bullying, no direct insults. I really thought I might have judged him wrong after all – because I really expected him to overreact -, so I didn’t answer. Maybe he is more narcissistic than borderline, I thought, and just gets angry if contradicted in what he thinks it’s his “expertise”…
* With “mentally unstable” I meant what in Spain is often also called (using the English term) a “borderline” personality; in English literature is referred to also as “emotionally unstable”. Glen’s personality obviously has strong paranoid (=Reads benign remarks or events as threatening or demeaning, Perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack) and narcissistic (=”I am a great linguist”, “you are all so ignorant of the truth”, and the like) and obvious features, but I can only bet for borderline, given the depictions of his previous behaviour as oddly alternating (from normal to incomprehensibly aggressive an then back to calmed and normal when talking e.g. with online friends like PhoeniX in the same threads) made by Language Hat readers. I didn’t even talk about his borderline features accounting for a full personality “disorder”, i.e. a mental illness [Edit: in fact, given the prevalence of Borderline PD in females, it is more likely that, in case he were diagnosed a PD, it were a Paranoid PD (i.e. fear of external objects as potentially harmful), of the aggressive type, i.e. projection of the own aggressiveness in objects (=”I am aggressive because you are all aggressive towards me”), less likely of the defendant type, i.e. suspicious of the objects (“I suffer because they all want to harm me”)]. Just a simple “mentally unstable”. Some people are more paranoid, some others are more narcissistic, some more avoidant; I said Glen was clearly unstable. I showed why, and all that as response to his online public insults and disqualifications, so that people can compare both points of view: either I (and the association) are actually “Nazi” and “racist” for proposing the language revival project and criticizing Mr. Gordon’s opinions, and those linguists who commented about him are all in a conspiracy crusade against his great work on an invented Paleo-thing, OR he had frequently emotional instability episodes when confronted with criticism…
Whether or not his case is one of full Borderline disorder (AKA illness) is an individual question only he and his psychiatrist are able to determine, as it depends on how adaptative his behaviour is for his everyday life, and how much he suffers from his violent overreactions from normal criticism (or even mockery, why not) of him and his work, as such episodes are usually very stressful for these people.
THIRD.- But, on the 18th of May I received an email from my domain name registrar, a Spanish company which gets paid 9$/year for (basically) redirecting “carlosquiles.com” to my server at my home IP “xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx”. They gave me a period of 7 days to delete especifically the “mentally unstable” and the “Asperger syndrome” words from the post, or they would “be obliged to shut down the service” I had paid for. ‘Someone’ had complaint about “violent” speech and “defamation” on that post. That ‘someone’ hadn’t contacted me before to suggest me to correct or delete the text where there was wrong or “bad faith” or (according to him) “violent” speech. Even my own company hadn’t contacted me to know my version of the story. So, again, a strong unfounded overreaction of Mr. Gordon (threatening a third party to make them silence an individual he dislikes) mixed with previous strong narcissistic and paranoid features.
I wrote them back immediately, telling them I am very interested in such legal questions (Information Technology Law) and here is what I answered them with a similar structure but more formally, as in sentences of Spanish courts (I won’t post the mails we exchanged here, as the company agreed on the next day that I was right, and I think they don’t deserve to be given bad publicity after all):
Art. 22.2 Ley Orgánica 6/1985, de 1 de julio, del Poder Judicial (LOPJ) .- En el orden civil, los Juzgados y Tribunales españoles serán competentes: (…) 2. Con carácter general, cuando las partes se hayan sometido expresa o tácitamente a los juzgados o tribunales españoles, así como cuando el demandado tenga su domicilio en España.
The Art. 22.3 LOPJ (with Art. 5(3) of the Brussels Convention of 1968 and Regulation (EC) 44/2001) clearly establish the choice of law rule lex loci delicti commissi for torts (civil wrongs not arising out of contractual obligations) and criminal offences. This includes all unlawful acts not governed by a contract [Kalfelis v. Schroder, 1988 ECR 5567 (case 189/87)], and the territorial connection is the country where the injurious facts were produced (e.g. from where the offender introduces data to the Internet), and the country where the damage is done (where the information is actually published, the location of the webserver) [G.J. Bier B.V. i Reinwater Foundation v. Mines de Potasse d’Alsace S.A., 1976 ECR 1735 (case 21/71)] which are often the same. So for example, I publish my content from Spain in a server of Spain. Mr. Gordon, however, publishes his content from Canada in foreign webservers – in Canada or the U.S., and simultaneously in a European one (Belgium or any other where Google, Inc. servers instantly ‘serve’ the content). This general territorial forum was further confirmed by the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe in 2001.
Art. 23.1 LOPJ: En el orden penal corresponderá la jurisdicción española el conocimiento de las causas por delitos y faltas cometidos en territorio español o cometidos a bordo de buques o aeronaves españoles, sin perjuicio de lo previsto en los tratados internacionales en que España sea parte.
NOTE. Traditionally, the choice of law “connection points” used in International Private Law to solve conflicts of jurisdiction (to ascertain the “forum“) and applicable laws are based on the territorial location of the actions and facts of each case. So for example:
Art. 8 Código Civil: “Las leyes penales, las de policia y las de seguridad pública obligan a todos los que se hallen en territorio español”
art. 5(3) Brussels Convention on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters 1968 : “En materia delictiva o quasidelictiva [será también competente] el tribunal del lugar en que acaeciera el hecho lesivo.”
art. 5(3) of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters: “En materia delictual o cuasidelictual, ante el tribunal del lugar donde se hubiere producido o pudiere producirse el hecho dañoso.”
In a digitial world where any information online is accessible everywhere, the “place” criteria is not valid for every case, as there can be actions considered offences in one country, and accessible from it, but commited from webservers and nationals of countries where they are not considered offences. Because Internet activity is “global” and law is “national”, sometimes jurisdiction is recognized by different national laws, and the important aspect is which jurisdiction could (and would) recognize which foreign resolution and which not. There are no “cyberlaws” or “supranational courts”, and the International Private Law guarantees that applicable solutions to conflicts are the product of a democratic process (State laws), respect the principle of State sovereignity, and gives efficient solutions thanks to the coercitive power of the State.
In a case like European Court Shevill v. Press Alliance, 1995 ECR 415 (68/93), of defamation using a publication, the origin of the ‘causal fact’ is the same as the country of the editorial sued – cf. similarly my blog content published in a webserver located in Spain. However, in Internet (and especially big companies like Google, Inc., with multiple webservers which coordinate themselves and publish their content instantly everywhere) it is frequently impossible to ascertain a single country of publication where the causal fact occurs, and multiple jurisdictions could hold themselves competent.
However, on the possibility of suing Mr. Gordon in Canada – regardless of where he did in fact publish the content -, according to Common Law rules, Australia’s Joseph Gutnick v. Dow Jones, VSC 305 (28 AUG 2001), has been cited by courts in the United Kingdom and Canada to justify their jurisdiction in cases of defamation using Internet, no matter where the individual (with U.K. or Canada domicile) published it. Also, the “domicile” concept is less strict than in our continental Rechtstaat, and therefore no nationality is needed for prosecution, so actual Canadian citizenship is not important.
Now, apart from the jurisdiction, there is the applicable law problem, as the court (whatever it may be) has the obligation to apply the necessary laws, whether foreign or national, which regulated those involved and their relationship. In Spain, it is a bilateral locus delicti rule, and it is interpreted as a conflict rule applicable to civil responsibility derived from any unlawful act, whether civil or criminal.
Art. 10.9 Código Civil: “Las obligaciones no contractuales se regirán por la ley del lugar donde hubiere ocurrido el hecho de que deriven.”
NOTE. The ubiquity problem of the Internet, already explained, makes this question of applicable law a especially difficult one when there multiple webservers and different nationals acting from different countries. So e.g. the Waddon case (U.K.); the US v. American Sports Ltd. (15-APR-2001), or the SAP de Barcelona, de 25 de abril de 2002, Planeta v. Geocities. That has favoured a frequent election of the forum by individuals, according to the best law they could find: so in the case of Andrew Meldrum – journalist of the Guardian – prosecuted in Zimbabwe for “defamation”, because of an article criticising its governement…
There are also people who defend the “law of the causal act” (law of the country of origin of the civil tort or crime) as the only one applicable. That makes it better for the offender, but tends to create “paradises” for offences and civil torts, as “tabloid havens” for webservers, established in countries with a relaxed protection of personal rights. So, for example, Mr. Gordon could claim that because he wrote from Canada, only Canadian laws apply to him.
NOTE. Unlike European continental countries, countries of Common Law (as the UK countries of the Commonwealth, like Canada) tend to substitute the lex loci delicti commissi with their Proper Law, the doctrine originated in conflicts of law of contract in their own courts. So e.g. in the U.S., in Hugues v. AOL, Massachusetts District Court, 28 May 2002, the election of the forum was admitted as binding, and so in the Court of Appeals of Washington DC in favour of the courts of Virginia, where Verizon has its domicile. In both cases, the actor tried to sue the companies in his State of residence.
Also, the single publication rule avoids in the U.S. that their courts might know of crimes or torts commited with contents published in webservers not located on U.S. soil, as in Simon v. Arizona Board of Regents, 28 Med L Rep 1240 (Ariz.Super.Ct.1999). A similar concept is found in the European Court Shevill (v.s.), where only the forum of the country where the causal fact happens is competent to fully examine the case (and compensate for damages suffered in global scale).
Furthermore, regarding online publications, the newest European law of tort (like the Regulation (EC) No 864/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations, so-called “Rome II”) will spread the concept of a strict lex loci damni, so that the accessibility of the Internet from any country is not enough for a (global) locus delicti, nor to select the applicable national law – the location of the webserver will, then, be the essential choice of law “connection” rule:
Article 4. Regulation No 864/2007. General rule. 1. Unless otherwise provided for in this Regulation, the law applicable to a non-contractual obligation arising out of a tort/delict shall be the law of the country in which the damage occurs irrespective of the country in which the event giving rise to the damage occurred and irrespective of the country or countries in which the indirect consequences of that event occur.
Also, express submission – as in this case – is recognized and given preference over any other forum in the future applicable law of tort, regarding European nationals:
Article 14. Regulation No 864/2007. Freedom of choice.1. The parties may agree to submit non-contractual obligations to the law of their choice:
(a) by an agreement entered into after the event giving rise to the damage occurred;
NOTE. On the contrary – regarding Mr. Gordon’s actions (and Google’s secondary responsibility) -, according to Spanish (now possibly old) case law, it is assumed there is the necessary minimal connexion between the unlawful conduct and the Spanish state if the content is accessible from Spain – therefore, Spanish law will apply to their unlawful acts as well (Calvo Caravaca, Carrascosa González, 2001: Conflictos de leyes y conflictos de jurisdicción). Regarding newer European legislation, though, it wouldn’t probably be followed; however, in lack of international treaties or reciprocity (as is the case of Spain or the EU) with Canada or the US, any decision on the legislation to be applied depends fully on Spanish courts, and there is a (logical) tendency to apply the own law if there is doubt.
SECOND.- The fundamental right to (or, more precisely, “public freedom”) freedom of expression is recognized by the Spanish Constitution of 1978, art. 20, and is protected through strong constitutional guarantees, especially by the Constitutional Court.
Art. 20.1 CE: Se reconocen y protegen los derechos: a. A expresar y difundir libremente los pensamientos, ideas y opiniones mediante la palabra, el escrito o cualquier otro medio de reproducción. (…) d) A comunicar o recibir libremente información veraz por cualquier medio de difusión.”
One of its express limits is the so-called right to honour (apart from right to privacy and right to public image, which are not involved here):
art. 20.4 CE: Estas libertades tienen su límite en el respeto a los derechos reconocidos en este Título, en los preceptos de las Leyes que lo desarrollan y, especialmente, en el derecho al honor, (…)
This right to honour is protected in civil law by the Ley Orgánica 1/1982, de 5 de mayo, de Protección Civil del Derecho al Honor, a la Intimidad Personal y Familiar y a la Propia Imagen.
Art. 1.1. LO 1/1982: El Derecho Fundamental al Honor, a la Intimidad Personal y Familiar y a la Propia Imagen, garantizado en el artículo 18 de la Constitución, será protegido civilmente frente a todo género de intromisiones ilegítimas, de acuerdo con lo establecido en la presente Ley Orgánica.
Only the worst attacks against a person’s honour are protected by Criminal Law, under a crime called “injurias“. It is a special criminal offence, as – unlike any other offence – the attorney general cannot prosecute the offender without a complaint from the offended person, whether an individual or an organization. So the offended has the last word, and can even expressly pardon the offender:
art. 208 Ley Orgánica 10/1995, de 23 de noviembre, del Código Penal (CP 95): Es injuria la acción o expresión que lesionan la dignidad de otra persona, menoscabando su fama o atentando contra su propia estimación.
Solamente serán constitutivas de delito las injurias que, por su naturaleza, efectos y circunstancias, sean tenidas en el concepto público por graves.
Las injurias que consistan en la imputación de hechos no se considerarán graves, salvo cuando se hayan llevado a cabo con conocimiento de su falsedad o temerario desprecio hacia la verdad.
Those “slanderous allegations” (injurias) made with publicity, which includes writings published “online” (as has been accepted by jurisprudence and case law long ago), are punished more severely:
art. 209 CP 95: Las injurias graves hechas con publicidad se castigarán con la pena de multa de seis a catorce meses y, en otro caso, con la de tres a siete meses.
THIRD.- A domain name registrar doesn’t offer “hosting”, but the so-called domain name registering, “parking”, and in some cases – as this one – it also resolves DNS queries. The domain registrar, then, in theory (and in practice) hires a domain name for me and (in my case) resolves [=redirects] a domain name (carlosquiles.com) to a webserver where I host my own content. There is no base in the contract I signed to threaten me with “shutting down my hosting”.
But, more important, there wouldn’t even be a right of the company to shut down a hosting service I had signed just “if and when they considered” (literally from the contract) that I, the website owner, was not behaving with “good faith”. This is clearly an illegal contract clause that gives the strong part in the contract the right to cancel it whenever they want, not only prohibited under Standard Form Contract and Consumer laws, but also in the most basic Spanish law of contracts, the Código Civil (CC).
art. 1256 CC: La validez y el cumplimiento de los contratos no pueden dejarse al arbitrio de uno de los contratantes.
NOTE. Also, about the specific standard form contract they offer to consumers to sign, cf. what was established in SAP de Madrid SECC 13ª, de 4 de junio de 2002:
.. ante el hecho reiterado de que las empresas o los profesionales que tiene un gran volumen de contratación impongan unilateralmente a quien se ve forzado o necesitado de contratar con ellas las condiciones a que se va a ajustar el contrato a celebrar, surgió la Ley 7/1998, de 13 Abr., sobre Condiciones Generales de la Contratación, que en su artículo 1 las define como aquellas cláusulas predispuestas cuya incorporación al contrato sea impuesta por una de las partes, con independencia de la autoría material de las mismas, de su apariencia externa, de su extensión y de cualquiera otras circunstancias, habiendo sido redactadas con la finalidad de ser incorporadas a una pluralidad de contratos, siempre que como señala el artículo 2, el contrato se haya celebrado entre un profesional -proponente- y cualquier persona física o jurídica -adherente- Estas condiciones, ligadas consustancialmente a los contratos de adhesión se caracterizan, en definitiva, por su predisposición unilateral; la ausencia de negociación individual; estar destinadas a una pluralidad de contratos y figurar con un texto proforma en un impreso normalizado que el predisponente, que tiene el carácter de profesional según la definición que del mismo da el núm. 2 del artículo 2 (toda persona física o jurídica que actúe dentro del marco de su actividad profesional o empresarial, ya sea pública o privada), somete a la firma del adherente.
Estas condiciones generales, que serán validas en tanto no contradigan en perjuicio del adherente lo dispuesto en la Ley de 1998, son objeto de un tratamiento más riguroso cuando el adherente al contrato es un consumidor, pues el ordenamiento jurídico debe procurar que no se rompa el requerido equilibrio contractual en perjuicio del contratante más débil. Por eso, siguiendo los dictados del artículo 51 de la Constitución, el artículo 8.2 de la Ley 7/1998, señala que, en particular, serán nulas las condiciones generales que sean abusivas, cuando el contrato se haya celebrado con un consumidor, entendiendo por tales en todo caso las definidas en el artículo 10 bis y disposición adicional primera de la Ley 26/1984, de 19 Jul., General para la defensa de Consumidores y Usuarios, además, claro esta, de aquellas que no cumplan los requisitos que relaciona el artículo 10 de la Ley 26/1984 (concreción, claridad, sencillez, buena fe y justo equilibrio entre los derechos y obligaciones de las partes, lo que excluye la utilización de cláusulas abusivas… etc.)…”
Domain registrars are not entitled to threaten to shut down the hosting or to oblige people to retract themselves or correct their writings, as the constitutional right to freedom of expression is at stake, and it certainly prevails over private contracts or institutions; even over public contracts or institutions…
NOTE. According to art. 16.1 Ley 34/2002, de 11 de julio, de servicios de la sociedad de la información y de comercio electrónico (LSSICE):
“los prestadores de un servicio de intermediación consistente en albergar datos proporcionados por el destinatario de este servicio no serán responsables por la información almacenada a petición del destinatario, siempre que:
- No tengan conocimiento efectivo de que la actividad o la información almacenada es ilícita o de que lesiona bienes o derechos de un tercero susceptibles de indemnización, o
- Si lo tienen, actúen con diligencia para retirar los datos o hacer imposible el acceso a ellos.
The term “conocimiento efectivo” of hosting providers has been interpreted by specialized authors as related only to a previous sentence by a court. Subjective appreciation of the illegal nature of the activity is not only unnecessary, but probably an unlawful restriction of the freedom of expression:
La cuestión, entonces, se resume en lo siguiente: ¿puede haber conocimiento efectivo y, por ende, responsabilidad, a falta de que “un órgano competente haya declarado la ilicitud de los datos, ordenado su retirada o que se imposibilite el acceso a los mismos, o se hubiera declarado la existencia de la lesión, y el prestador conociera la correspondiente resolución”?
La respuesta mayoritaria en nuestra doctrina es afirmativa. Pese a ello, creo que hay buenos argumentos para mantener que los intermediarios sólo responden, como regla general (es decir, en ausencia de acuerdos voluntarios y del establecimiento de otros medios de conocimiento efectivo), cuando conocen que un juez ha declarado que los materiales en cuestión son ilícitos.
– El conocimiento efectivo deberá acreditarse de forma positiva, sin que valgan alusiones a la probabilidad de haber conocido y mucho menos al deber de haber conocido; vale la pena recordar que el modelo comunitario -en homenaje al cual adoptamos esta solución de compromiso- excluye expresamente la existencia de un deber general de supervisión de contenidos por parte de los intermediarios.
– La existencia de un conocimiento efectivo no se producirá por el mero hecho de que se notifique al intermediario la existencia de unos materiales ilegales, sino que dependerá de dos variables principales:
- La “seriedad” de la notificación; dicha “seriedad” puede ser “cualitativa” (notificación realizada por un sujeto evidentemente legitimado, de forma fehaciente y con aportación de la información precisa para justificar la ilegalidad de los datos) o “cuantitativa” (un número relevante de usuarios, de forma no concertada, llaman la atención sobre ciertos contenidos).
- La “auto-evidencia” de la ilegalidad, es decir, que la misma resulte sin género de dudas de la simple visión de los materiales afectados (por ejemplo, pornografía infantil), sin que la ilegalidad dependa de datos o información que no se encuentran a disposición del intermediario; por ejemplo, faltaría esta “auto-evidencia” en informaciones que lesionan el honor de una persona, si su ilegalidad depende de la veracidad de la información y ésta resulta mínimamente verosímil.
Anyway, the point in this case is that a company cannot make people sign standard form contracts, and then interpret them however they like. This company acted as domain name registrar and as DNS server; no hosting, and thus no content and no responsibility involved.
NOTE. Nevertheless, website owners with so-called “hot links” to illegal content have been also prosecuted in the case “ajoderse.com” as responsible. However, they weren’t punished, and hotlinking isn’t the same as DNS server.
“Que puede existir responsabilidad por la colección de hiperenlaces según el texto de la Ley 34/2002, de 11 de Julio, de Servicios de la Sociedad de la Información y del Comercio Electrónico, que en su art. 17 establece la responsabilidad en que incurre un sitio Web cuando sabiendo que un contenido es ilícito, se expone un enlace a una página declarada ilegal. Se precisaría el conocimiento efectivo por parte del proveedor de servicios de que la actividad o la información a la que remite el hiperenlace es ilícita. Pero aún cuando el prestador de servicios conozca la ilicitud de las páginas enlazadas, la Ley 34/ 2002 define lo que se entiende como conocimiento efectivo en el último párrafo de su art. 17.1 (…) En suma, no probado el conocimiento efectivo, desaparece la base para la imputación penal del titular del sitio web.
But even if there were a sentence about shutting down my blog, my domain registrar should collaborate only if requested explicitly by a court; a simple, apparently obvious inference by a public authority from a previous request of a court to close a website is not enough; so in the Bitmailer case:
Cuando un órgano competente por razón de la materia hubiera ordenado, en ejercicio de las funciones que legalmente tenga atribuidas, que se interrumpa la prestación de un servicio de la sociedad de la información o la retirada de determinados contenidos provenientes de prestadores establecidos en España, y para ello fuera necesaria la colaboración de los prestadores de servicios de intermediación, podrá ordenar a dichos prestadores, directamente o mediante solicitud motivada al Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología, que suspendan la transmisión, el alojamiento de datos, el acceso a las redes de telecomunicaciones o la prestación de cualquier otro servicio equivalente de intermediación que realizaran (…)
Sin embargo una elemental exégesis de dicho precepto nos permite deducir que a través de él no se configura una especial acción de cesación frente a aquel prestador de servicios a quien, en principio, no incumbe la obligación de cesar. Por el contrario, al contemplar un deber generalizado de colaboración con las autoridades que hayan dictado orden de cesación, constituye pieza esencial para la operatividad del precepto la previa existencia de esa orden de cesación emanada de autoridad competente, en su caso judicial, de tal suerte que aquel deber no se concibe como la concreción de una obligación propia y genuina de cesación del prestador nacida para él ex lege del art. 1089 del CC en relación con los arts. 15 y 16 de la L 34/2002, sino como un deber de Derecho público que obliga a todo operador de Internet -de la clase que sea- a colaborar con las autoridades en la materialización o cumplimiento de una obligación que no es propia del llamado a colaborar, sino ajena y que genuinamente no incumbe más que a aquél frente a quien se ha dirigido la orden de cesación emanada de aquella autoridad (…).
FIFTH.- If I write an article in an online newspaper, only I and the newspaper can be held liable. If I write it in my own blog, only I can be held liable. The owner of the server where the content is hosted has a secondary responsibility, which is born only when the court or legitimated authority (although not in some countries) explicitly states that it should delete the content, if it doesn’t comply with that order. That’s essential to any modern law, and only in countries where human rights are not respected could third parties, relatives or friends held accountable for what another person does. Otherwise, everyone could sue Spanish Telecom Telefonica (as the telephone line belongs to them), my girlfriend (who hires the DSL service), the ICANN (responsible for domain names), the domain registrar (as in this case) or, why not, every computer and software manufacturer involved in a supposed online civil tort – Samsung, Firefox, WordPress, search engines…
NOTE. The essential and basic concepts of legal responsibility (liability) in Spanish law of tort are similar (if not equal) to those of Common Law, and so with the concepts of actus reus and mens rea.
SIXTH.- Under Spanish law – and in other jurisdictions – there is an obligation when someone gives an opinion or information – especially when other people’s rights (like the “right to honour”) are involved – to show proof of “veracity“. Not truth (as it is often impossible to prove), but veracity, i.e. “enough effort to find the truth”. I worked a post about Mr. Gordon’s odd behaviour in his relationships with bloggers; I linked to that behaviours, which showed his bullying, hounding and insulting (as anonymous user or not, anyway with the same IP) in different blogs; and then made a deduction about his personality.
In fact, I couldn’t probably write a post about someone I just met on the street and say: “hey, that guy I met is mentally ill”. Not many Spanish judges would consider this under the scope of the freedom of expression. However, if that same guy first contacts with me with a normal behaviour, then insults and disqualifies me publicly in web sites, then hounds me and others, and then I draw the conclusion that he must be “mentally unstable” due to his violent overreactions, not a lot of judges in the whole free world would be able to rule that I hadn’t the right to make other people know why that guy actually insulted and hounded me and my organization publicly, as he made himself a publicly relevant information for Internet users.
NOTE. For more on the conflict of freedom of expression and right to honour:
Cuando la libertad de información no se orienta a un asunto de interés público, en el que sus titulares procuren formar opinión en una materia de interés para la comunidad y, de esta manera, actuar sobre la opinión pública… entonces, no tiene preferencia el derecho de información y ha de resolverse a favor del derecho al honor. SSTC 165/87 Y 105/90; SSTS de 20 de diciembre de 1990 y de 22 de mayo de 1993.
La jurisprudencia de TS., prácticamente de forma unánime, valga por todas la Sentencia de 25 de febrero de 1985, refiriéndose a la actividad periodística, advierte que el ejercicio de tales derechos : “… Presuponen el deber de informar objetivamente, aduciendo, a la vez, la denuncia de hechos que son infracciones de deberes sociales, de convivencia, alimentarios, culturales, deportivos o administrativos, que trata de promover un estado de opinión y hasta fomentar un grupo de presión en la opinión pública tendentes a la corrección o paliativo de esos defectos, o bien a promover la crítica de situaciones anómalas, extrañas o irregulares, que tenga un sentido potencial y tendencial positivo y constructivo, pero sin caer, en uno u otro caso, en la transgresión de derechos tan respetables, permanentes y fundamentales como el del honor personal, por lo que si el derecho de expresión garantiza y respalda el mantenimiento de una comunicación pública que goza de libertad, y repudia por naturaleza y esencia la previa censura, no por ello hay que olvidar aquel correlativo derecho al honor, que ha de ser salvaguardado mediante la puesta en juego de unos criterios ponderativos que, en cada supuesto y caso, enjuicien la posibilidad de lesión de los mismos, constitutiva de delito o falta, o de simple crítica emitida con finalidad de llegar a crear un estado de opinión y a las esferas y poderes del Estado con el fin de corregir las deficiencias que por tal medio de difusión como es el periodismo, se trata de alertar y corregir por quien corresponda en cada caso”.
On the other hand, Mr. Gordon insulted me as “Nazi” either directly or with comparisons, and that accounts for a serious insult (i.e. a criminal offence) according to (a surprisingly vast) case law. He repeats the word “Nazi” more than ten times, linking me directly to “nazi” and “racist” ideas, and referring to my “fascist-like” behaviour, and to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, before I made fun of his Godwin’s law record by repeating my being nazi till exhaustion (=rhetorical magnification to show the stupidity of the argument), which he used still one more time to assert that “You may be finally overcoming your denial”. He made those offences using public means offered by Internet, to be able to reach a lot of people, and conscient of doing so (v.s.).
NOTE. For recent examples of the common insult “nazi” in successful criminal prosecutions, see SAP Baleares de 9 de Diciembre 2002, SAP Barcelona, de 22 de Enero 2007, SAP Albacete de 27 de Junio 2005, SAP Madrid de 25 de Octubre 2004, SAP Valencia de 26 de Septiembre 2008, and a large etc. For all of them, this conclusion of STS de 24 octubre de 2003 (v.i.):
La libertad de expresión, entendida como formulación y difusión libre de pensamientos, ideas y opiniones mediante la palabra o como libertad de comunicar información, ha de estar orientada, de forma imprescindible, por la verdad y, además, no perseguir la lesión del patrimonio moral, la reputación, consideración o prestigio del sujeto afectado por aquella actividad. Porque si es cierto que el artículo 20 de la Constitución reconoce los derechos de “libertad de expresión” y de “comunicación de información, también es cierto que la misma “Ley Suprema”, en el mismo artículo, declara que la información ha de ser veraz y que tales libertades o derechos tienen su límite en el respeto a los derechos reconocidos en el Título I de la misma, así como en las leyes que los desarrollan “y, especialmente, en el derecho al honor, a la intimidad y a la propia imagen”.
El insulto personal, la vejación injusta y el menosprecio grave, expresados en el caso de autos, en palabras tales como: inepto, caradura, sinvergüenza…, no pueden estar nunca amparados por el derecho esencial de la libertad de expresión, puesto que en caso contrario se generaría una sociedad infame en la que la convivencia se degradaría a unos límites intolerables, tanto en el aspecto cultural como en el que mínimamente exige una intercomunicación humana precisa para calificar como civilizada a una agrupación social.
En el presente caso, la expresiones calificativas vertidas en un periódico semanal, son definidas como injurias, ya que lesionan la dignidad del Sr. X, menoscabando su fama y atentando contra su propia estimación, las cuales, pasan a ser de tipo agravado ya que se realizan con publicidad, pues se propagan por medio de imprenta.
Those coments made only with insulting and humiliating intention, about me and the association, as “Nazi” and “racist”, as well as those personally directed at me (like “ignorant”, “arrogant”, “fool”, “idiot”, etc.) make him legally responsible under tort law, essentially under the LO 1/1982, art. 9. The claims of Dnghu as an organization are subject to the same law, cf. the case “putasgae.org”, about the SGAE (=Spanish RIAA).
NOTE. For case law on tort involving illegitimate interferences with the right to honour and the Internet, see especially – among copious examples – the fine imposed for insulting someone as “nazi”, STS de 24 octubre de 2003, where even the “veracity” claim cannot overcome the insulting nature of this word’s strong humiliating connotations:
En definitiva, se trata de delimitar la libertad de expresión y el derecho al honor y, como se dice desde el principio, comprobar si se ha atentado verdaderamente a éste; sobre un litigio semejante se afirma «… No se trata de propias expresiones de ideas, pensamientos, ni siquiera opiniones, pues se da un componente claro y decididamente vejatorio de la persona y prestigio profesional del demandante, con trascendencia en el desmerecimiento público y social.
Ha de destacarse la carga negativa y de desprestigio que en estos tiempos tiene tachar a una persona de racista (dejando atrás el concepto tradicional de racismo jerárquico), y que viene a ser el móvil rechazable de actuaciones de grupos violentos, que, sin respetar la Constitución que proclama que no puede prevalecer discriminación alguna por razón de la raza, hacen del componente racista, por excluyente, un totalitarismo no conciliable con elementales principios democráticos y que, al ser básicamente diferenciador, enturbia la armonía de la convivencia pacífica y acercamientos culturales diversos, por lo que el discurso racista se presenta como racismo desigualitario al atender y resaltar las diferencias entre las personas, estableciendo quienes son superiores y quienes no lo son por inferiores y con ello acatarlo por la imposición que se les hace.
La doctrina constitucional ha declarado que los derechos constitucionales no son ilimitados, pues ninguno lo es (sentencia del Tribunal Supremo de 6 de diciembre de 1986) y no se reconoce el pretendido derecho de insultos (sentencia de 17 de enero de 2000), por lo que de la protección constitucional que otorga el art. 20 están excluidas las actuaciones absolutamente vejatorias, es decir las que en las circunstancias del caso y al margen de su veracidad o inveracidad, sean ofensivas u oprobiosas, resultando impertinentes para expresar las opiniones o informaciones de que se trate» (sentencias del TS de 8 de junio de 1888, 12 de enero de 1998, 14 de octubre de 1999, 11 y 25 de octubre de 1999 y 7 de enero de 2000).
Now, instead of being thankful to us (me and the Association) for not denouncing his offences to the Spanish attourney general to be prosecuted; instead of being thankful for not suing him for an economic compensation in light of the damage to my honour and the Association’s; instead of being thankful to us for not contacting Google Blogger service (through its “denounce inappropriate content” link) to make the company close his blog due to its inappropriate content (as everybody signs a binding contract with Google in exchange of its free services, and Google certainly does not permit it to be used to insult and humiliate others); and instead of being thankful for my justification of his weird behaviour owing to the fact that he has a borderline personality; on top of all that Mr. Gordon threatens a private company distantly related to my websites, to make them do the dirty work, trying to silence me. His freedom of expression allows him to insult me and the organization I belong to in each and every comment he publishes, but I cannot criticize him or his behaviour: a very consistent attitude, showing once more features of his strong emotional stability…
The most striking aspect of this case is not that there are still in western countries of the 21st century unethical individuals able to trivialize past shameful events of racism and genocide by using the insult “nazi” as a common trite to call everyone whose ideas they dislike; and who don’t mind sending cowardly mail threats to third parties not involved as means to get critic voices to be quiet, instead of trying to directly address those involved or to turn to the only legitimated institutions to restrict our rights, the courts of justice; and who would like to make the Internet a place for insulting others and make those “others” live in a censored environment, to decide when and who can say what and how. Human evilness is infinite, and if you give people the idea that exerting power without accountability is possible – as e.g. spreading the idea that obliging a company to silence somebody is as easy as to send them an anonymous email – there will always be individuals eager to use it.
Because of that, the frightening thing here is that the fear of being sued by an English-speaking guy is enough today for some companies based on EU territory to try to limit the civil (usually fundamental or constitutional) right to freedom of expression. Fear of money losses over human rights. Fear of distant threats on one’s pocket over the own legislation and courts, over the fundamental rights of others. Digital terrorism made easy: “if we receive a “cease and desist” threatening mail, we will shut down your web, so – this is the message behind that policy – don’t write anything we or others could dislike as not being ‘appropriate’, or ‘in good faith’, etc. because we don’t need courts to limit your rights”.
A MESSAGE TO BULLIES
Firstly, the U.S. policy of “no negotiation with terrorists” has a good reasoning behind it, however tough it may seem sometimes. If you don’t negotiate with somebody who threatens you, if you don’t step back, you give a clear, assertive sign of your future behaviour, and nobody will have the impulse of trying to threat you later, because they must know they will get nothing. Well, I could (and in fact did) simply abadon other websites when I was insulted (like Glen’s Paleoglot), but I don’t have any other rational option with bullies like these personal trolls that chase me home. I cannot give up any right a third party wants me to renounce, just because I would be sending other unethical people out there the wrong message: that they can get something from me by threatening or insulting.
Secondly, dear Glen, you should also know other curious Internet “laws” apart from your beloved Godwin one: the Streissand effect, in particular, is happening more and more each time you help this whole thing grow bigger. You first wanted everyone to know how “Nazi” we all were, how we all conspired against you, helping us to draw logical conclusions about how you really are. Now, because you wanted my post to be deleted through unlawful means, dozens of law students (more in the future when searching for “freedom of expression”, “right to honour” and “cease and desist” cases), and thousands of monthly visitors of this blog are reading (or will read) about you and your persistent weird, aggressive and coward actions. And if you persist in your wrongdoing, I will post every piece of your insults and my posts (this and the previous one) in Spanish; then translate it to German; then to French…; then, if still bullying around, we will be able to draw still more conclusions about you from your reactions and activities; and then translate them; and so on. And if that doesn’t deter you from insulting me and/or the association with such serious offences as “nazi” or “racist”, you will eventually have to face criminal prosecution in Spain.
You said once:
(…)perhaps because I’m a good chess player and I can see more than three moves ahead (…)
Well, I think that even if you are a good chess player (of course you must be good in everything you do), you could consider you have done some wrong moves here. May it be for ethical (preferrably) or moral, rational, legal or mere practical reasons, just consider your next “three moves” more carefully in light of game theory instead of just chess games.
Or maybe it’s just that I couldn’t see the benefit of the past three moves you planned, and you were only looking for attention and links to your Proto-Tyrrheno-freak thing…