Monday, April 10, 2006

A Precise Topic! Finally!

My posts over the last two weeks have been infrequent, to say the least, because as I navigate the cases and commentary on fair use as applied to the Internet and search I increasingly feel like I'm trapped in the Labyrinth without a string. A large part of my difficulties has been a lack solid justification for my paper in arguing that Google's various lawsuits would set bad precedent if Google loses. Now, thanks to two professors, who I won't yet implicate in this project, I have found a legitimate basis on which to criticize current copyright law, which certainly beats just calling it dumb.

The First Amendment and the Copyright Clause of the Constitution are in tension. While a central tenet of our society is encouraging a robust public discourse on matters important to the country, the Constitution also restricts speech in certain ways as an incentive to create more speech.

Freedom of speech has often been interpreted to stress and favor political speech. However, this has been more of a response to technological limits of a given medium than anything else. The Internet poses new challenges for the First Amendment, and offers the opportunity to rethink what freedom of speech means in a world where each person with Internet access can be heard world-wide with almost zero costs. Perhaps it is time to shift our understanding of free speech to one that emphasizes speech's effect on shaping our world through participation than simply making snarky comments.

Free speech has always been described as an essential element in fostering a sense of personal autonomy. What is different these days is the way copyright law is working as applied to the Internet. It is a battle of words and metaphors in a public relations effort to convince people that they should support the rights of content creators. But supporting the rights of content creators the way copyright law does now betrays the fundamental purpose of copyright law.

A service such as Google is representative of the debate. It is a technology that is infinitely useful in organizing the massive amounts of info on the Internet. It's utility is good for the public. Also, as lawsuits are decided and precedents are set, the rules that courts apply to Google will apply to everyone else as well. If Google can't link to other sites, I won't be able to link on this blog. And if a majority of what Google does is deemed to be copyright infringement, it has profound implications for how we will be allowed to read, write, and interact with the world around us. Google is on the front line of the battle between greater Internet utility and content providers seeking to force users to consume their goods in the manner they dictate.

If freedom of speech can be harnessed as a lens through which to view the Internet and copyright law, then the laws can be discussed in a manner that people can at least understand. We may decide that strong protection of authors' rights is a good thing, much in the way that some prefer a Mall to Main St. USA, but that should be an educated decision people make through public debate, not through a legislative coup by interested parties at the exclusion of the public.

So this is the gist of the project. Any ideas or suggestions are most welcome. Exercise your freedom of speech and leave a comment.
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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the first amendment give us a right to listen? Did the authors conceive of it as a right to the give and take of communication, or simply as a right to speak or only to "send" messages, with no corresponding right to "receive" them?

5:02 PM  

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