Can Courts Protect Old Media from Web Technology?

Modern copyright law is designed for an obsolete paradigm of information, but that doesn’t stop lobbyists and legislators from fighting to make it even stricter and ever more reactionary.  Business models designed in the 1950s are struggling to keep up with the realities of the internet, and they’re blaming the nature of information sharing on a lack of law enforcement and civil penalties.

So although the internet has made transferring information easier and cheaper than ever, the last ten or fifteen years have seen successively harsher laws designed to protect companies that invest in patent & copyright lawyers.  Lobbyists and industry executives sponsor political campaigns and donate heavily to both major American parties, so the consistency of industry-favorable legislation has practically come to be expected.  What is surprising then, is how so many judges have been tied to industry organizations and how many have come out in favor of completely draconian measures to combat the dreaded “copy” function.

In the recent Pirate Bay case, it was eventually revealed that some of the judges hearing the lawsuit were active members in pro-copyright groups – a membership they shared with the music-industry lawyers presenting the case against TPB.  Its one thing to stay up to date on the law, its something else to subscribe to a legal group designed specifically to advance certain corporate interests over others.  The conflict of interest was thrown out because the groups claim they are objective and informational, but by constructing a consensus that excludes the interests of consumers and web entreupeneurs they stifle dissent and discourage nuance in legal rulings.  Its like holding a conference on world peace and only inviting a dozen countries.

Here in America, a judge is taking the concept of online copyright to a whole new extreme in the name of “saving” old media industries like newspapers and television “journalism.”  In fact, if he gets to hear the case he might end up ruling that simply linking to copyrighted content could be a crime.  This doesn’t just mean that you can’t link to a pirated software source, he means you shouldn’t be able to link to CNN or FoxNews when something happens and you want to talk about it.

Of course, such a law would be impossible to enforce without seriously destroying the value and quality of the internet experience, and it would require a heavy-handed commitment on the enforcer’s part.  The logistics of such a law are absurd enough, but the possibility of actually pulling it off creates an even more nightmarish vision of the web ruled by lawyers, bureaucrats, and old media pundits.

Is judicial sympathy for old media dinosaurs a simple matter of a generational gap in the digital world?  Are the lawyers so bound by the decisions of Congress that they have a duty to uphold technological regression against the interests of the general populace?  Like I said, I expect elected representatives to act like this – they need help from the press & old media!  Why do the judges jump on board?  I just don’t know.

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