Pushing The Expression Envelope: Semiotics

In yesterday's blog, I discussed the expressive content of sound, noise, and music. Yes, even ring-tones have expressive content. To find that something has expressive content is important when it comes to freedom of expression rights under s.2(b) of the Charter. If a sound or gesture does not have expressive content, then it will not be protected. Even if it does have expressive content, the court will be more concerned with an infringement if the expression goes toward fulfilling a Charter value such as self-fulfillment or democratic entitlement. Of course, the government can still restrict that right if justified under s.1 of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada suggests that expressive content, not only depends upon the purpose of the expression, but is also dependent on the place of that communication. Therefore, expressive content must also depend upon the source of that communication: human manipulation as opposed to a pure environmental source. 

On that basis, let's push the expression envelope, so to speak, and think about the expressive content of symbols. Semiotics is defined generally by writer and one-time Professor of Semiotics, Umberto Eco, as the "study of signs." Signs can be words, sounds, images, gestures, objects, body language or really anything which stands for something else. According to Roland Barthes, the linguistic philosopher who created a postmodern view of semiotics, all of these signs in the modern world are really a complex association of "language" or a "system of signification." Thus, the peace symbol emblazoned on an American flag during the Vietnam War is expression as well as the dancing men in the Sherlock Holmes mystery.

But how about numbers? Numbers are symbols and form a language. Numbers can express weight, time, and amount. Numbers have expressive content and meaning. In a world of technology, the expressive content of numbers is important and perhaps of crucial significance in today's information highway. presently, the legal community has focused on the intellectual property aspects of information and have treated numbers as property. However, as expressive symbols, information or data may be viewed as more than receptacles but as having intrinsic expressive value under s.2(b) of the Charter.

Who knows, perhaps in the postmodern world of the future, the Jetsons will be expressing themselves freely in a numeric world protected by the Charter.