HUNTERDON COUNTY DEMOCRAT
An Independent Weekly Newspaper, serving Hunterdon since 1825

Thursday, November 26, 1998      PAGE A-25
 

Letters



'Net Controversy
To the Editor:
Information and photographs presented on my privately owned and operated, almost 2 year old website, "flemington-nj.com," about the town i live in, will not be available until further notice due to the current controversy with and threatened legal action by attorneys representing the Flemington Borough Council asking me to cease my domain name.
The "Official" site of Flemington Borough Council is and always has been "flemington.net" but it really should be "flemington.gov" as, I believe their governmental domain name has been reserved in their honor. Their actual site shouldn't be maintained and owned by another private resident of our town.
I apologize for everyone's inconvenient and disappointment, but attorney Peter Buchsbaum has threatened legal action if I did not comply with the council's demand.
I feel that this entire situation is simply a result of a misunderstanding of how this new media (the World Wide Web of the Internet) works, and that knowledgeable webmasters, with good intentions and borough cooperation, can benefit all members of their community.
Annick Elzière,
Webmaster of flemington-nj.com
Flemington


Overreaching
To the Editor:
I think that flemington-nj.com website was completely legal and not at all confusing. It was clearly not "official" and the municipality was overreaching, silly and showed the all-too-present penchant of "leaders" of government to spend tax payers money to press the position of those in authority regardless of the law, or the expense to its adversaries.
Contrasted to the position of the governing body, Annick Elzière's determination to accede to their wishes shows a genuine desire to accommodate, even at the cost of her rights, a lost virtue in the mean times we live in. I wish her well.
Robert C. Shelton Jr.
Sussex County


Official Assault
To the Editor:
I am astonished the taxpayers of Flemington would condone an official assault on such a useful public resource as Annick Elzière's www.flemington-nj.com. Here in morristown, various private citizens have developed competing websites that promote our historic town, including www.morristownnj.com, which earned its "official" anointment by including substantial noncommercial content for the benefit of residents and visitors.
If Flemington seeks to offer the public only one official website, perhaps they should offer only one official restaurant, gas station and church.
Town officials have no legal grounds for harassing www.flemington-nj.com and their frivolous attempt to aggrandize themselves will ultimately result in a widely publicized lawsuit resulting in a substantial damages award to a well intentioned defendant.
Timothy G. Cutler
Morristown 


First Amendment Violation
To the Editor:
I was surprised to read in the Democrat that Flemington's attorney has sent a letter to Annick Elziere - the author of an Internet Web page devoted to Flemington - and demanded that she "cease and desist" from publishing her information on the Internet. Such action by the borough is a clear violation of Ms. Annick's First Amendment rights. Furthermore, the Democrat's assertion that "there was no way of knowing that the website...was not government backed just from its appearance" is completely mistaken. Government sites are clearly identified by the use of the "gov." domain, just as a private website is distinguished by the "net." or "com." domain.
The Founding Fathers chose to protect private speech from government intrusion the very first amendment. Indeed, it is the security of the First Amendment which serves as the first line of defense for all of our other rights. That Ms. Elziere's site may have created some confusion on the part of some readers is hardly just cause to compromise this important right.
I find it curious that the Democrat chose to publish this story on page 8. Presumably, the editor believes this story to be of lesser importance than those which preceded it in the paper, such as open auditions for a theatrical performance at the East Amwell School or the Fall Talent Show at Our Lady Of Lourdes Church. (And I mean no disrespect to either of these events.) I'm quite certain that if the government ordered the Democrat to cease publication, the story would somehow find its way on Page 1 above the fold. And that would be perfectly proper.
Flemington borough should immediately retract its demands and affirm its understanding that the First Amendment prevents government from restricting the speech and expression of our citizens.
Curtis Leeds
East Amwell Township 


Flemington Should Back Off
To the Editor:
I find the recent actions of the Flemington Borough Council against an individual operating an Internet website under the name of flemington-nj.com to be quite disturbing. The action, as I understand it, seeks to prevent the individual from using this name, which she has owned since March 1997, citing the fact that the website does not represent the borough and infringes on their legal right to the name. Possibly so, except for the fact that there is no apparent action to protect the name, being directed at the private owners of two other Internet names (called domains in the language of the Internet): flemington.net and flemington.com.
There is also reported a concern, by the borough, that confusion is being created over "official" information, as presented on the Internet webpage, and that the domain name flemington-nj.com implies an official sanction. This is just not the case. According to the various standards adopted as Internet naming conventions, a specific domain known as ".us" (pronounced dot u s) is available specifically to register localities. As of the writing of this letter, Flemington Borough has not claimed its exclusive right to its designated name "ci.flemington.nj.us" (the ci stands for city). Over 275  towns in New Jersey have claimed their names in the "us" domain, so this is nothing new.
Additionally, these names in the us domain are free, unlike the commercial names that charge an annual registration fee.
The borough is choosing to swat flies with a shovel. Reports seem to indicate that threatening action was taken prior to even discussing the issue with the domain name owner. It would be much more reasonable for them to claim their "official" information they deem appropriate there, possibly even acknowledging the contributions to the community by the private website with a link. They should stop expending the community into abandoning her right to use a commercial name for whatever legal purpose she wants, as protected by the First Amendment.
John Kalinich
Readington Township


[Flemington-nj.com]