Freedom of Speech?
Two recent events have put freedom of speech in South African society into question, both involving vigilante consumers. The first is the anti-Sentech site Mywirelesssucks.co.za and the latest is Hellkom.co.za. Both are basically noticeboards for unhappy consumers to voice their anger over poor service delivery, with a 'moderator' webmaster that adds his own commentary, with Mywirelesssucks.co.za offering forums, and Hellkom linking to the MyADSL forums. Mywireless was taken down after legal threats were received from Sentech, and Hellkom was served yesterday with legal action threatening a R5 million lawsuit.
Whilst the protection of intellectual property, in this case of the Telkom trademarked name and logo, is an incredibly important construct in this modern economy, the curtailment of free speech is notable. In both cases, the webmasters have been threatened with the big stick of legal action under trademark infringement, in a similar vein to SAB's legal action on Laugh it Off owner Justin Nurse.
Consumers should be able to vent at poor service, it is an incredibly important part of a consumer society. It could be said that Hellkom trades too much on the Telkom brand and thus was always going to be an easy target, but in my opinion this should fall under the ambit of acceptable free speech. Some balance has to be found in our law that allows for free speech without impinging on intellectual property rights.
Gregg Stirton, webmaster of Hellkom.co.za has not yet inferred what action he will be taking in response, but he gives an insight by stating that "the logo's are classified as parody, even my little pet tree knows that." Let's hope he gives them a good fight and brings the debate into the public conversation.