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6/27/2003
07:25 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Nelsonville, Big Brother, And Me

'We're already doing what the Supreme Court wants us to do.'

Nelsonville is a small town in southeastern Ohio where several thoroughfares are still paved with red bricks fired long ago in a nearby brick factory. I know Nelsonville because I did my undergraduate work at Ohio University, which is located one town over in Athens. Nelsonville and Washington, D.C., don't intersect all that often, but they did last week when the Supreme Court ruled that to obtain federal funds, public libraries must use Web-filtering software on PCs providing Internet access. Stephen Hedges, director of the Nelsonville Public Library, says the Supreme Court decision won't change much because the library already uses Web-filtering software and has since it started offering Internet access back in the 1990s. Hedges says he has worked over the years with the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to address complaints by library patrons about Web content being blocked and that there have been "fewer and fewer complaints." Hedges also implemented filtering technology (the product is iPrism, from St. Bernard Software) that he feels better addresses the patrons' primary objection: that adults should be able to turn off the filter when they want to. Says Hedges, "The biggest thing is, if you're an adult and you have an adult library card, you can turn it off by yourself."

My son and I were watching a movie recently, one that had just that day (or the day before) been released on DVD. My daughter arrived home with her mother, and when she noticed what we were watching remarked that she herself hadn't cared much for the movie. I asked if she had seen it in a movie theater, and she said no. So how had she seen the movie, considering it was just released for general distribution? She gave me a look of patronizing disdain: One of her friends had downloaded it off the Internet several weeks ago. I thought of that last week when the Recording Industry Association of America announced it was starting a campaign to target individual copyright violators. Is it too little, too late, or can digital distribution of content still be controlled?

Are these two items connected? I think so, but I don't exactly know how. Except that they also seem to relate to discussions going on around the 100th anniversary of George Orwell's birth, discussions that involve Orwell's concept of Big Brother. Is the Internet Big Brother? Does it encourage Big Brother? Does it discourage Big Brother? I don't know, but it seems that sometimes the federal government reflects what its constituents already know is right, rather than imposing its will from above. And maybe the market will exploit the Internet's advantages no matter how hard certain vested interests try to hold it back.

I don't have a brother, I have two sisters. Which I guess means I missed out on some wrestling matches and guy talk. But I always had my own bedroom! I don't want to miss out on an industry tip, so send it to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about Web filtering, copyright infringement, or Big Brother, meet me at InformationWeek.com's Listening Post: informationweek.com/forum/johnsoat.

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