Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Supremes in the Digital Age

With most of the MSM awash in the US Supreme Court decision over the Ten Commandments displays (predictably the issue was diluted with its "yes-no" verdict), the real news to technophiles and other computer users was overlooked. Two other court decisions yesterday reveal much about the perceived future of both the internet and file-sharing.

In National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, the court upheld the FCC claim that cable media should be treated as a deregulated information service. Unlike the telephone media which must allow competition, cable carriers do not have to share their cable lines with competitors. This means the natural competition in DSL internet access does not translate to the cable medium. So, the consumer will can only receive internet access from the cable carrier or a small selection of competitors that the cable carrier chooses.

An analogy might be useful here. This is similar to a construction company building a large road between two cities and then restricting access to that road based upon its own whims. This company could insist that all trucks on the road must be on its own or lease/toll the use of that road to intentionally discourage other companies from using it. This would allow the construction company to compete now in other markets using that road. So a small trucking company wants to use this road, but can't afford to re-build it. Then rather than having the option to pay a reasonable toll, the original construction company outprices the toll and thus reduces its competition.

So, is this another government-sanctioned monopoly in the works? No doubt.

CDFinally, in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., the Supreme Court ruled that file-sharing software companies should be held responsible for the illegal reproduction of their customers. This will now open the flood gates even further on the recent attempts by the recording industry to reign in illegal digital reproductions. This not only sets a dangerous precedent in suggesting that a company that offers a product is responsible for its every use, but also brings into question whether the digital world is becoming more regulated than its real world counterpart.

I said this before and I'll say it again. Copyright does not protect individual use of a product. No one can stop me from listening to a song on the radio or reading a book from a friend in the real world. Why is the virtual world any different? (Previous post on this)

So, technology is framed as the enemy to economics yet again while its contribution is ignored.


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