Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Freedom of Speech and Drive-By Spoilers

A few friends and I were hanging out out at a bookstore on the night of the release of the final Harry Potter novel over the summer. I figured that it was the last book, so I had to take advantage of the last possible time where you would have masses of children and adults dressed as wizards and witches cramming bookstores across the country.

Anyway, the subject of spoilers came up, as it inevitably does when people are in anticipation of an enormous phenomenon of popular culture such as this the final installment of Harry Potter. The threat of a spoiler ruining someone's enjoyment for something like this is especially real when the media product is a book, where someone can quickly flip to the last chapter and obnoxiously shout out the ending. Of course, the victim has no way of verifying whether or not the work would be actually spoiled, or if the offender just made something up plausible enough to annoy the victim.

On the subject of spoilers, a friend remarked that it would be particularly low to conduct a drive-by spoiler, shouting out from a moving vehicle a real spoiler to people who have clearly just purchased the book. It's funny and immoral, comedic and evil, all at the same time.

Now, libertarians who concern themselves with deontological ethics argue against the initiation of force. This clearly includes fraud, of which the vehicle is language. Freedom of speech also doesn't cover the incitement of violence. You can't legally or morally yell "fire" in a crowded theater. What about a spoiler though, and it's harsher relative, the drive-by spoiler? Is this an initiation of force? One person is ruining a product for someone else, against their will. Now, I doubt if someone has ever actually tried to take this up in court. I would hope that this wouldn't ever get to a court. On the one hand, this hardly passes the "giggle test." On the other hand, it seems that there is a real victim here. Still, I'm not a fan of government intervention in anything really. It seems like this couldn't be solved through the government, and if an agent of the government even tried to fix this, it would be simply unenforceable. Furthermore, how could you determine the quantitative value of ruining someone's enjoyment of Harry Potter? It's clearly more than just the price of the book, and it's different for everyone. It would seem that no law could come close to delivering justice.

This whole puzzle seems like a interesting philosophical question for debate. Pass this tidbit along to your friends, and it's cool for you to say, "That awesome blogger Seth Goldin thought of this interesting situation. What do you think of this?"

By the way, a quick search on Google right now of "drive-by spoilers" returns 149,000 pages. I thought the idea of such a transgression as I've described here was a bit more original. I think I see some videos on YouTube for drive-by spoilers concerning Harry Potter. I will definitely have to go check those out.

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