Tomorrow’s Biggest Story

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. . . won’t have anything to do with hardware, but rather with what you can do with it.

Tomorrow, that collection of nine old people called the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments (that means lawyers try to talk them into agreeing with them, and the justices ask them questions about it) on Eldred v. Ashcroft.

What’s it about? In 1998, Congress extended the amount of time copyright protection applied by twenty years. This kept Eric Eldred from legally transcribing and posting some literature on the Internet.

The folks on Eldred’s side are saying that the extension of time is unconstitutional because it stretches the “limited time” for copyright protection specified in the Constitution to ridiculous proportions.

The lawyer for Mr. Eldred, and the man who will present the oral arguments for him, is none other than Lawrence Lessig. As the New York Times put it, “It will fall to Mr. Lessig, who is a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and who has become a kind of rock star for the digital liberties set, to convince the justices to accept the unconventional analysis.”

I just finished reading one of his two books, and I am impressed by his arguments about how the Constitution should be interpreted in light of cyberspace, if not in complete agreement with them.

While this is ostensibly over a 20-year extension, I’m sure Mr. Lessig’s comments about copyright will extend far beyond the immediate point at hand.

But my opinion, nor your opinion, nor even Mr. Lessig’s opinion really counts. It’s what those nine old folks think that counts.

Why Should I Care?

The Supreme Court will probably decide next spring. Sorry, but they don’t work on Internet time.

However, sometimes you can get a sense of what the justices think about a case by the questions they ask the lawyers. If the questions Mr. Lessig gets are antagonistic, or if he hardly gets questioned at all, that won’t be a good sign.

In any case, if those old folks agree with Mr. Lessig next spring, that would make the whole matter of law and the Internet a whole new ballgame.

If they don’t agree with Mr. Lessig on this one, especially if they essentially ignore his arguments and decide “it’s Congress’ call,” it’s doubtful they’re going to side with anybody but the powers-that-be on anything else in the future.

Then the course of action for those who don’t want the RIAA to get what it wants will become strictly political, and if the apathy continues, your cause is going to be “set up like a bowling pin.” RIAA and Company are going to go running around Congress saying, “Steal, steal, steal” like Southern politicians used to use the “N” word in elections.

Wake up, people. There’s a lot more at stake here than just MP3s. To a large extent, the battle over whether the Internet will be run by, with and for the people or by, with and for the corporations will be decided over the next few years.



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