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, Doe. The FBI 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.

Due Process

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 Internet

The Baker case would not merit much attention if it did not involve the Internet.

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.

Appropriate Use

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.
Last Updated: 1/29/96