What's the Big Deal over Jake Baker?
The Jake Baker controversy is not a single dispute, but several
disputes regarding civil rights and the Internet. This page
attempts to summarize several of these discussions.
Privacy of victim
Was Baker within his free speech/free press rights to
use her name without her knowledge or permission?
The spark that ignited the Baker investigation was Baker's use
of a classmate's name as the victim in one of his stories,
believes that his use of her name in combination with email (which
does not mention her name) constitutes a threat to her.
Others believe that he should be able to use any name in a
work of fiction. Baker's mother says he used the name because
it is a sexual pun, such as I.P. Freely and Homer Sexual used
in "The Simpsons" TV show.
Since the woman named is not a public personality, she could
sue Baker for slander and/or libel. Slander (defaming someone
in private conversation that can be overheard by others) requires monetary
damages, which would be hard to prove in this case. Libel (defaming
someone in the media) allows damages for loss of reputation.
Does the story constitute a threat to Jane Doe?
As mentioned before, the University and FBI believe the story in
connection with email constitutes a threat to Jane Doe. However,
Baker did not contact Jane Doe in any way. It is clear that Jane
Doe probably would have never found out about the story if the
University had not contacted her. It is legally unclear whether
a conversation regarding fiction between two other parties without
her knowledge constitutes a threat. Reportedly, Jane Doe believes
that she is threatened.
Are Baker's stories a kind of psychological therapy?
Baker claims that the stories help him to vent anger. Psychologists
use this technique to work through emotions without acting them out.
Should this sort of therapy be a crime?
Role Playing in Creative Writing
Was Baker role playing when he corresponded with Arthur Gonda?
Was Baker writing about himself in his stories?
A creative writer on the net notes that it is common practice for
fiction writers to role play as their characters, in order to write
more effectively. Was Baker just role playing in his conversations
with Gonda? Baker's use of the first person in his stories also
causes confusion. Did Baker plan to live out one of his stories?
Do Baker's stories have constitutional free speech/free press
protection? Should they?
Baker's stories, including Doe, are graphically violent and sadistic.
Some, such as Catharine Mackinnon, argue that such works have no
intrinsic value and should be illegal. Others argue that unrestricted
free speech is a basic human right.
Did Baker receive due process from the University? Does Baker
merit handling as a violent felon on the basis of his writing alone?
Did Baker's writings constitute a criminal action?
Contrary to the assumption of "innocent until proven guilty" common
in the United States, Baker has been assumed guilty by University and
governmental authorities from the start. Some discussion of whether
this is justified or appropriate has taken place. There has been
a lot of argument over the issue of whether the stories and email
can be considered criminal at all. Comparisons have been drawn between
Baker's case and the Ervin Mitchell case: Ervin Mitchell was connected
to several rapes and a murder by DNA evidence, and was been treated
much more leniently than Baker until he was found guilty.
The Baker case would not merit much attention if it did not involve
Internet as a publishing medium
Did Baker abuse his posting privileges?
It has been noted that the Internet allows individuals access to
a large audience. This effectively gave Baker a large audience
for his stories, which otherwise would have never seen them. Some
have questioned the wisdom of allowing just anyone access to such
publishing power. As discussed above, posting the story may
expose Baker to civil liability for libel against Jane Doe, if
the Usenet news can be considered media.
Internet crossing jurisdictional boundaries
Was a crime committed by use of Internet media? How will
this affect the future of the Internet?
The Internet crosses political boundaries with impunity, making
enforcement of local or even national laws often impossible.
Baker is charged with violating a federal law regulating interstate
commerce, 18 U.S.C. s 875(c), which
may not have been applicable had his story not been posted to the
Internet. Several people have noted that Baker's writings are comparable
to those found in violent books or some magazines. Many people expect
this case to set a precedent for free speech and regulation of the
Internet in the United States.
Were Baker's stories inappropriate for the Internet?
Baker posted his stories to alt.sex.stories,
which is a newsgroup reserved for erotic or sexually explicit stories.
Whether Baker's stories were appropriate has been discussed.