June 18, 2004 · Lessig
This comes to me from a reliable source, though I would very much like it if it were mistaken.
Apparently Microsoft has taken the first steps to filing a criminal defamation action against a Brazilian government official who was quoted criticizing Microsoft in a magazine article. Sergio Amadeu, head of the agency responsible for spreading free software within the Brazilian government, is reported to have accused “the company of a ‘drug-dealer practice’ for offering the operational system Windows to some governments and cities for digital inclusion programs. ‘This is a trojan horse, a form of securing critical mass to continue constraining the country’.”
He’s also quoted characterizing Microsoft’s strategy as a “strategy of fear, uncertainty and doubt.”
These statements have apparently earned Mr. Amadeu the right to defend himself in a defamation action. Microsoft characterizes Amadeu’s statements as “beyond being absurd and criminal” and as evincing an “excess in freedom of speech and freedom of thought.” “Freedom of speech and freedom of thought” is, Microsoft apparently believes, properly prosecuted in Brazil, and so it has brought this first step to prosecute the “felony of defamation” evinced by Amadeu’s words.
Such words could not rise to the level of defamation in the United States; I would be surprised if they were defamation in any sane state. But whether they are defamatory in Brazil or not, it is wrong for this company to use the law to silence a critic. In the American tradition, we meet bad speech with more speech, not with more lawyers. We should all teach Microsoft something of our tradition, by meeting its bad speech — a defamation action against a critic — with lots more speech criticizing it.