You'd think that Minnesota residents should be free to learn whatever they want from any site on the internet. You'd be wrong. The State of Minnesota determines not just what degrees may be offered there, but how its residents may learn things on the internet. Recently the Office of Higher Education has instructed Coursera — an institution that offers not degrees, but free courses on a variety of subjects online — that it may not provide its free online courses to Minnesotans without state permission. Coursera has edited its terms of service accordingly.
Notice for Minnesota Users:
Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.
Now, I think it's unlikely that Popehat would be treated as subject to the statute. We're not a learning institution and we don't offer "courses," per se, except in the sense of "a course of abuse." But we can't be too careful. We're talking about a state that thinks it should dictate whether web sites in other states can make free online content available to its citizens. Who knows what they'll do next? I don't want to subject Popehat to Minnesota's onerous disclosure requirements or pay fees or be subject to injunctions if some functionary within the Minnesota Office of Higher Education decides that Popehat is attempting to offer courses in, say, Spammer Communications. I don't want to have to go to Minnesota to defend myself. Lakes make me itchy. Plus, my lovely wife spent only a couple of years there in the 1970s and I still laugh at her accent, so I'm concerned that legal proceedings there may not go my way.
ATTENTION MINNESOTA RESIDENTS:
BY VISITING AND READING POPEHAT, YOU AGREE TO AND ACCEPT, UNCONDITIONALLY AND WITHOUT RESERVATION OR DISPUTE, THE FOLLOWING TERMS:
1. IN THE EVENT YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM POPEHAT, EVEN SOMETHING SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT LIKE "I HAD NO IDEA LAWYERS WERE SO DISTURBED" OR "THAT SINGLE FACT BURIED IN THE NINTH PARAGRAPH OF KEN'S UNSETTLING RANT IS FASCINATING" OR "PONIES ARE TERRIFYING," YOU AGREE TO INDEMNIFY, DEFEND, AND HOLD HARMLESS POPEHAT AND ITS OWNERS, AUTHORS, INVESTORS, STAFF, AND ASSORTED WRETCHES FROM ANY ACTION AGAINST POPEHAT UNDERTAKEN BY THE STATE OF MINNESOTA AND ITS CONSTITUENT BUREAUCRACIES AND OFFICIOUS FUNCTIONARIES.
2. BUT YOU AGREE NOT TO LEARN ANYTHING FROM POPEHAT. IF YOU ARE READING POPEHAT, AND FEEL YOURSELF ON THE VERGE OF POSSIBLY LEARNING SOMETHING, YOU WILL EXIT POPEHAT INSTANTER BY CLOSING YOUR BROWSER WINDOW OR NAVIGATING TO A SITE LIKE SLATE.
3. ALTERNATIVELY, BEFORE READING POPEHAT, YOU AGREE THAT YOU WILL FIRST FLEE THE STATE OF MINNESOTA, REACHING A DISTANCE OF AT LEAST ONE HUNDRED (100) YARDS OUTSIDE THE STATE BEFORE READING POPEHAT. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MAY YOU THEN SHOUT ANY OF THE CONTENT OF POPEHAT BACK INTO MINNESOTA TO A PERSON OR PERSONS WHO HAVE NOT YET FLED SAID STATE.
We thank you for your attention.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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