Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Freedom and Rights?

Censorship. It’s one of those words we use that means lots of different things to lots of different people. It’s one of those words that’s very emotionally charged, one that sends blood pressures rising and tensions mounting.

On a purely academic level, censorship is something that prevents some sort of expression. It’s all around us, in various forms, and we all do it. It’s not just when an oppressive government stamps out an opposition newspaper. It’s also when a public library decides not to buy a certain book because it’s too lewd, or when a school filters its internet service. It’s also happening when your wife asks you, “Now be honest, does this skirt make my butt look big?”

So, not all censorship is evil. Sometimes it’s very appropriate. Not all censorship is good, either.

But we’ve built our society around certain rights, and one of those rights is free speech. And, essentially, another of those rights is free enterprise. And there are times when those can collide. Let me tell you a story.

Many years ago, I was working full-time in the music industry, and I signed on with a program for the distribution of independent music. “Indies”, as they are called, are musicians that are self-produced, and usually not signed to a record label. If they are signed, then it’s to a smaller label that’s not tied to any of the big boys.

The man that ran this distribution network (called the Independent Musicians’ Co-op, or IMC) had set some standards for the artists that he wanted to carry. In addition to making sure that the music had a baseline of studio quality (no living-room recordings here), he also wanted to make sure that there were no albums listed that were blatantly offensive or obscene.

At the time, one of the projects I’d recorded was a metal band, and while their music wasn’t foul or obscene, the cover they’d chosen for the album was pretty violent. So much so, that I wasn’t sure that it would be appropriate for the IMC.

So, I met with the owner.

He reviewed the material, and as we talked about it, we both agreed that it was borderline. He wanted to include as diverse a musical base as he could, but the cover was just too much. He was quite apologetic to me, partly because we were friends, and partly because he’d not had to approve a project that was so edgy before.

He commented that he didn’t want anyone to scream, “Censorship!” at him, but he felt the cover to be too violent.

At the time, I told him what has since solidified into my own personal understanding and policy. I told him that I didn’t feel that his choice was inappropriate at all. He wasn’t telling the band what they could or could not do. He wasn’t forbidding them or controlling them. They still had every right and every freedom to make the music they wanted and to put any cover they wanted on it. They also had the right to explore any distribution method they wanted. They had full freedom of speech.

Here’s how it applies to the business world: I also told him that he, as a business owner, had the full right (under the rights of free enterprise) to decide what his business would sell. If a product didn’t fit with his vision for his business, or if it didn’t fit appropriately with his audience, then he had every right to decline it.

See, just because one person has the right to free speech, doesn’t mean that the rest of the world has the obligation to listen to it. Just because a product is released doesn’t mean that every store in the world has to sell it. If you don’t believe in it, don’t stock it on your shelves.

And if that makes some people scream about censorship, then let them. We all have our rights!

No comments:

Post a Comment