Opinion: Supremes' Rulings Leave Geeks Singing The Blues - InformationWeek

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6/27/2005
10:37 PM
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Opinion: Supremes' Rulings Leave Geeks Singing The Blues

A pair of Supreme Court rulings this week -- one condemning file-sharing technology, the other killing cable Internet competition -- deliver a vicious one-two punch to innovation and intelectual freedom.

For those who care about technology, freedom, and competition, this was perhaps the worst week in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court this week handed down two rulings which will stifle broadband competition, infringe on intellectual freedom, and slow or halt the development of new technologies.

Even for a court that has been on the wrong side of just about every issue involving democracy, the decisions were stunning.

First the court ruled that cable companies can stop their competitors from using their lines, cutting off cable competitors at their knees. Then it followed up with a decision that file-sharing services can be held liable if their customers primarily use the software for copyright-infringing purposes.

Both decisions were flat-out wrongheaded. Years ago cable companies, by law, were given local monopolies in towns and cities across the country. So they may have laid the cable lines, but the did so only because the law wouldn't allow any competitors to lay cable lines, or compete against them. It's time that stopped. Competition should be allowed to thrive, to drive down prices, and force companies to offer new services. And while DSL offers cable competition, that by itself isn't enough. Cable lines should be open to all competitors.

On the file-sharing case, the justices were wrong as well. It's true that file-sharing is used to infringe on copyrighted content, but the same holds true for VCRs. The Supreme Court years ago ruled that because VCRs could be used for legitimate purposes, VCR makers could not be sued. Should we expect the justices to go after Tivos next? Entrepreneurs from now on are going to be justifiably worried if they develop some new technology that could conceivably be used to infringe on someone's copyright content --- and they may well simply stop development on it.

The only good news from the Supreme Court this week is that this year's session is over. With the judges off on vacation, at least they can't be doing anyone harm.

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