Reading the Times in California

In which I read the New York Times by myself on the west coast, and react to the news.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I haven't actually read the opinions on the Supreme Court case on Grokster vs. MGM Studios et al., and I suppose I should. But what I've read about it seems to be entirely reasonable. At first, when I read that the courts had ruled against Grokster, it seemed like they were stifling digital innovation, à la disallowing video tapes on the basis that they would make copyright infrigement possible. But it seems that this is being explicitly avoided here:

Grokster's supporters warned before yesterday's ruling that if the peer-to-peer networks lost, it would stifle new technology. But the court emphasized that developing a technology that could be used to infringe on copyright is not enough to make the developer legally responsible. The decision limits liability to companies and individuals who induce others to break the law through "purposeful, culpable expression and conduct." It "does nothing," the court underscored, "to compromise legitimate commerce or discourage innovation having a lawful promise."

Another article, actually reporting on it instead of just giving opinion, is here. Worth reading and thinking about. Take, for example, its opening sentence:

The Supreme Court handed a major victory to the entertainment and recording industries on Monday by reinstating a copyright-infringement suit against two file-sharing services.

Well, yes, in the good-guys-versus-bad-guys sense. What people fail to realize in lots of these digital rights cases is what Lessig keeps trying to hammer home (go renew your subscription to WIRED!): that it's not copyright infringement that is the digital democracy's goal, but rather the innovation of new technologies, and their use for awesome. It's easy to equate the RIAA et al. with The Law, and the little anarchist kids with their computors as The Lawless Punks, and forget there are people in the middle trying to use new technologies in ways that have been legal in an analog world, and should be legal in a digital world.

Conclusion: While the decision appears to be a good and well-reasoned one, the reporting on it misses some of the point.