The first month of 2012 was a crazy one for internet law. The Stop Online Piracy Act gloriously crashed and burned, Apple is getting sued in China for naming rights to the iPad, and in America someone is suing to show that porn doesn’t deserve copyright protection. In the wake of all the hot debate and hot tempers, it seems some people highly invested in internet freedom and content protection have begun looking to gain support for their causes outside of the legislature.
This week, we learned from a couple news stories that advocates from both sides of the internet aisle have turned to lawyers and the court system to defend their causes. Earlier this week, some OG internet pioneers testified to a jury, and a major media company executive has begun courting law professors for support.
I’m not sure whether I think the fact that people have decided the legal system is a good place to argue high-level, fundamental internet freedom questions is impressive (give yourselves a pat on the back, attorneys, you are hip to the tech set now), or a little bit scary (do these people realize how technophobic lawyers can be?).
You will have to decide for yourself…
Wired’s Threat Level blog tells us about a case in Texas so important that legendary internet innovators are coming out of the woodwork (no, I don’t mean Al Gore) to testify to a jury:
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, testified in a courtroom Tuesday for the first time in his life. The web pioneer flew down from Boston, near where he teaches at MIT, to an eastern Texas federal court to speak to a jury of two men and six women about the early days of the web.
His trip is part of an effort by a group of internet companies and retailers trying to defeat two patents — patents that a patent-licensing company called Eolas and the University of California are saying entitle them to royalty payments from just about anyone running a website with “interactive” features, like rotating pictures or streaming video.
Defendants in the case include Google, Amazon, and Yahoo. According to Wired, other witnesses in the case include “other web pioneers like Netscape co-founder Eric Bina, Viola browser inventor Pei-Yuan Wei, and Dave Raggett (who invented the HTML ’embed’ tag).”
Is it weird that I imagine these guys descending down to court on the spaceship after a long journey from Valhalla?
But on the flip side, the evil-empire movie industry is also courting lawyers. Elite law school professors, to be precise. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
In a letter sent to dozens of law professors last week, Paramount Pictures’ vice president of worldwide content protection and outreach, Alfred C. Perry, wrote that the company was “humbled” by the strong public opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, two bills that sparked worldwide protests in mid-January. The backlash surprised the company, the letter states, and Mr. Perry asked professors to consider inviting representatives for campus discussions of intellectual-property laws. The goal would be to “exchange ideas about content theft, its challenges, and possible ways to address it,” the letter reads.
The company’s message strikes a gentler tone than recent comments by Philippe Dauman, the chief executive of Viacom, Paramount’s parent company. He recently suggested in an interview that the strong public opposition to the Senate’s bill was driven by a “mob mentality” and “unfortunate rhetoric.”
The Chronicle calls the letter (available here), which was apparently only sent to professors at top-ranked law schools, “gentler.” I call it sniveling and probably disingenuous. Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University and the author of the Law and Marketing Blog, agrees with me:
“I don’t understand why, if they truly wanted to engage consumers, they would approach law professors, especially those at the most elite schools,” Mr. Goldman wrote in an e-mail interview. “There are at least a half-dozen ways that Paramount could get better marketplace feedback than eliciting the perspectives of law students, which reinforces why I think they intended to do more talking than listening.”
Actually, I’m confused. Is Goldman making a dig at Paramount or at law school students? Either way, it’s worth noting that the media industry tried courting lawyers — specifically Biglaw — shortly before SOPA’s death knell. That experiment failed miserably.
However this affects the future of the internet, if at all, I’m calling it a victory for attorneys. According to people who know technology, lawyers are no longer simply the guys who force their paralegals to print out all their emails. Seriously. I mentioned this when I was at LegalTech last week, but the tenor of the profession seems to be changing. Maybe us millennials have just bitched and whined so much that the folks in charge just want to get us to shut up, or maybe we have the iPad to thank.
Whatever. My blood pressure is going down, and that’s good, so I’m not going to think about it too hard.
After Uproar Over Anti-Piracy Bill, a Movie Studio Courts Law Professors [The Chronicle of Higher Education]
Tim Berners-Lee Takes the Stand to Keep the Web Free [Wired Threat Level]