Generally I have a lot of respect for Richard Posner
. The word "brilliant" gets thrown around casually a lot, but I really do think Posner verges on brilliance. You don't get 40 books published by writing nonsense or wasting readers' time. Let's settle for saying he's a very smart, very widely influential judge.
He also blogs, with Gary Becker at the eponymous "Becker-Posner Blog". There, earlier this month, Posner put up a piece that was nominally on the future of newspapers.
The problems with newspapers are nothing new; what's new (and excuse my impertinence WRONG) here is one of the remedies Judge Posner suggests. After a long discussion of the costs and economics of newspaper publication, here's his final sentence:
Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.
No. Just no. Linking is the fundamental technology of all hypertexts, of which the World Wide Web is by far the biggest and most popular. One of the reasons it is so large and so widely used is the ease with which information can be accessed, transferred, exercised, repurposed, and reused. The fact that this fundamental technology is in conflict with the page-centric advertisement+content revenue model is an indication that the ad model is flawed, not that we should erect further legal barricades to try and cripple the very thing the Web does best.
To be very clear, I have a large personal stake in this game. Copyfight, like so many other blogs, is built around the notion of taking things said elsewhere, pointing to them, and building on them. Since all writing in the US is born copyrighted, there would be a large blow to almost every blog if this kind of restriction were passed. It is a stupid idea.
The fact that it was put in as a final sentence in the blog posting makes me think Judge Posner hasn't really thought this one through. The comments in the blog are neither edited nor responded to, sadly, since several of the non-spam commenters take Posner to task over this nonsense.