The little guys lost twice in Supreme Court decisions involving
technology last week, but in both instances the rulings hardly
represent the end of online battles.
The case that has attracted the most attention is also the most
straightforward. At issue is whether Internet file-sharing companies
can be held responsible if they encourage users to trade copyrighted
music and videos without paying for the materials.
Some attacked the unanimous decision, charging that the threat of
legal action would stifle needed innovation even as it allowed major
studios to cling to obsolete business practices. But the growing
presence of firms that offer legal download options undermines that
argument and ignores a more important one: the ubiquity of
file-swapping itself threatens innovation by denying artists their
The second decision involved whether cable companies must allow
competing Internet providers to use their networks to offer high-speed
service. Voting 6-3, the majority punted, saying that such decisions
are the purview of the Federal Communications Commission.
But the FCC already has ruled that cable systems are distinct from
telecommunications companies, and thus do not have to offer equal
access to lines. In a sharp dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia accused
his colleagues of making false distinctions between the services - and
worse, shirking the court's obligations.
The cable companies cheered, and the telecoms made noise about wanting
similar provisions. Congress -- which writes the laws on which the FCC
is supposed to issue regulations -- should be braced for lobbying of
unprecedented intensity and expense.
As quixotic as it may sound, we urge members of Ohio's delegation to
remember consumers in this process. The value of the Internet is
inherent in the universal opportunities it allows; if services are
narrowly controlled, huge opportunities for abuse exist.
As several critics argued after the opinion, if a single company
controls high-speed Internet in a community, it could deny -- or at
the very least slow down -- users' access to items the system's owners
oppose. Just consider the frightening implications for companies
competing to offer specific downloads, or political candidates seeking
to spread their platforms. Citizens win in free and robust exchanges;
it is crucial that Congress allow them to flourish.
Copyright 2005 cleveland.com.
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