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April 26, 2004
It's All About the Distribution - Free Speech, Telecomm and Copyright
I've said it before. I'll say it again. When it comes to information, it is all about the distribution.
Last week, Ed Felten pointed out a great point about the important nexus between copyright law and communications regulation (Copyright and Cultural Policy). Felten was referencing James Grimmelmann's excellent LawMeme write-up on Seton Hall Law School's recent symposium, Peer to Peer at the Crossroads [PDF] (Conference Report: Peer-to-Peer at the Crossroads). Read the whole report, but the presentation that struck Felten's fancy (and mine) was UVa's Tim Wu: Copyright's Communication Policy [PDF]:
This article suggests that the main challenge for 21st century copyright are not challenges of authorship policy, but rather new and harder problems for copyright's communications policy: copyright's poorly understood role in regulating competition among rival disseminators. [emphasis in original]
Read the whole thing. It is a rich look at an extremely valuable way of considering copyright law.
Wu calls them disseminators, I call them distributors, but we both recognize their importance to copyright law. If, as I argue, copyright is about distribution, then it really makes sense to view copyright as communications policy (which is also about distribution) (It's All About the Distribution, Stupid).
I go even further, however, and claim that important elements of the First Amendment are also about distribution (It's Freedom of the Press, Stupid and Freedom of Speech as Distribution is a Good Thing).
Bonus: Check out the figure on page 11 of Wu's paper. Reminiscent of a layered protocol, don't you think?
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