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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Culture, Law and Politics of Copyright
January 18, 2012 - 10:18pm

The culture, law and politics of copyright are starting to get interesting. The Obama signal not to support SOPA over the weekend, the Web Blackout of sites in protest of that proposed legislation yesterday at the same that the Supreme Court decided to uphold Congressional action in support of copyright protection demonstrate in the political realm the kind of instability that culture has experienced over copyright for almost a generation. Altogether, observers should view the turbulence positively.  Once a backwater area of the law, increasingly front and center of international culture, copyright not only needs but deserves the attention that American government and international Internet society should give it to balance innovation and incentive accordingly.

For once, the American content industry does not appear to have bought the White House lock. stock and barrel.  Nothing partisan about it.  President Clinton could not have snuggled closer to Hollywood pals than in his support and signature of the Copyright Extension and Digital Millennium Copyright Acts.  Both laws have ever since been contested among technologists, free speech advocates and many in the higher education research community.  Early remarks as well as appointments of the Obama Administration did not suggest a change of this direction, which is why news that SOPA had fallen on hard times in the White House was so refreshing.  Don't count on that more balanced approach to please the most vocal advocates.  Extreme voices have tended to drown out moderate positions.  All the more reason that leadership in this area is desperately needed.  For once, it would appear that an administration is willing to stake out proper, not just popular, ground.

Of course, it helps if those who are whispering sweet new words in the administration's ear are powerful Internet giants.  Up to now, it has been the little man against the titans as the Elder v. Reno and Golan v. Holder cases demonstrated at the Supreme Court level.  The popcorn is headed for the microwave as we sit back and watch the titans now battle amongst themselves.  Let's hope that somehow a balanced perspective comes out of the fight.

From an educational perspective, the web blackout of sites was a boon!  Not a little bit of irony acts as the backdrop of a story whereby students had a funny thing happen to them on their way to Wikipedia.  Once the scourge of educators, Wikipedia now helps to educate teachers and students alike about one of the most important political issues of the day.  The erstwhile backwater of a legal curriculum has now become interesting indeed!



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