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Preview: The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Published: 2010-09-18T12:44:54-05:00


EFF-PFF Amicus Brief in Schwarzenegger v. EMA Supreme Court Videogame Violence Case


(image) By Berin Szoka & Adam Thierer

Yesterday, the Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging the Court to protect the free speech rights of videogame creators and users and asking the justices to uphold a ruling throwing out unconstitutional restrictions on violent videogames. At issue is a California law that bans the sale or rental of "violent" videogames to anyone under the age of 18, among other regulations. While the law was passed in 2005, it has never taken effect, as courts have repeatedly ruled it unconstitutional. California appealed its loss at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. The case is Schwarzenegger vs. EMA.

This case has profound ramifications for the future of not just videogames, but all media, and the Internet as well. Although we've had 15 years of fairly solid Supreme Court case law on new media issues, a loss in the Schwarzenegger case could reverse that tide. In the amicus brief, we explain how the current videogame content rating system empowers parents to make their own decisions without unconstitutionally restricting this new and evolving form of free speech. Our brief is focused on three major arguments:

  1. Parental Control Tools, Household Media Control Methods, Self-Regulation and Enforcement of Existing Laws Constitute Less Restrictive Means of Limiting Access to Objectionable Content than Government Regulation of Constitutionally Protected Speech

  2. Videogame Content is Constitutionally Protected Speech Deserving Strict Scrutiny

  3. The State Has Not Established a Compelling Government Interest in Restricting the Sale of Videogames to Minors

The filing can be found online here and it is embedded down below. As always, the Media Coalition has done an outstanding job summarizing the case and listing all the major briefs filed with the Court in this matter, so check out their Schwarzenegger v. EMA page for everything you need to know about this case. also offers excellent ongoing coverage of the case.

New OECD Study Finds That Improved IPR Protections Benefit Developing Countries


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) just released a useful new study entitled Policy Complements to the Strengthening of IPRs in Developing Countries. It significantly undermines the claims of "public interest" advocates who wail that they just know intuitively that improved legal protection for intellectual property rights (IPRs) are merely one more means through which developed countries oppress developing countries. While such claims often sound lofty and compassionate, very ugly prejudices often lurk beneath them. Fortunately, by actually studying real data, the OECD found that such claims are wrong as applied to actual developing countries: "[T]the results point to a tendency for IPR reform to deliver positive economic results."

Hubris, Cowardice, File-sharing, and TechDirt


Over at Digital Society, Jim DeLong's Filesharing in Underdeveloped Nations: Let's Take from the Poor and Give to the Rich does a fine job of ripping apart the latest round of nonsense from the economically challenged blog TechDirt. I won't spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that Jim shreds TechDirt "arguments" with casual ease.

Jim's piece also highlights a fundamental problem with TechDirt's childish, copyright-hating worldview: TechDirt brews its venom from an ugly blend of hubris and cowardice.

iPhones, DRM, and Doom-Mongers


In the National Law Journal, Dan Brenner's piece, Apps decision: no big deal, provides a thoughtful debunking of the hype that surrounded this summer's decision by the Librarian of Congress to exempt the "jailbreaking" of iPhones from the anti-circumvention provisions of 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a). I tried to make similar points back when the ruling was first issued, but I think that Brenner has better explained the underlying issues.

"Rogue Archivist" Carl Malamud On How to Fix Gov2.0


At yesterday's Gov2.0 Summit conference, "rogue archivist" Carl Malamud gave a great speech about what's wrong with government IT and what should be done about it.

Coping with Information Overload: Thoughts on Hamlet's BlackBerry by William Powers


(image) Information overload is a hot topic these days. I've really enjoyed recent essays by Aaron Saenz ("Are We Too Plugged In? Distracted vs. Enhanced Minds"), Michael Sacasas ("Technology Sabbaths and Other Strategies for the Digitized World"), and Peggy Noonan ("Information Overload is Nothing New") discussing this concern in a thoughtful way. Thoughtful discussion about this issue is sometimes hard to find because, as I've noted here before, information overload is a subject that bitterly divides Internet optimists and pessimists. The pessimists tend to overplay the issue and discuss it in apocalyptic terms. The optimists, by contrast, often dismiss the concern out of hand. Certainly there must be some reasonable middle ground on this issue, no?

There is, and some of it can be found in a fine new book, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers. Powers, a former staff writer for the Washington Post, is a gifted storyteller and his walk though the history of philosophy and technology makes this slender volume an enjoyable, quick read. He begins by reminding us that:

whenever new devices have emerged, they've presented the kinds of challenges we face today -- busyness, information overload, that sense of life being out of control. These challenges were as real two millennia ago as they are today, and throughout history, people have been grappling with them and looking for creative ways to manage life in the crowd. (p. 5)

His key insight is that is that humans can adapt to new technology, but it takes time, patience, humility, and a little effort. "The key is to strike a balance," he says, between "the call of the crowd" and the "need for time and space apart" from it. (p. 4) The problem we face today is that all the pressure is on us to be what he calls "Digital Maximalists." That is, many of us are increasingly out to maximize the time spent in front of various digital "screens" whether we have made the determination that is really in our best interest or not. It has just gradually happened, Powers argues, because "The goal is no longer to be 'in touch' but to erase the possibility of ever being out of touch." (p. 15)

How Many Times Has Michael "Dr. Doom" Copps Forecast an Internet Apocalypse?


(image) How many times can FCC Commissioner Michael Copps declare the Internet dead? Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher bombastically bellowing sermons warning of the impending End Times, Commissioner Copps has made a hobby out of declaring the Internet dead and buried unless drastic steps are taken right now to save cyberspace! The problem is, he's being saying this for the past decade and yet, despite generally laissez-faire policy in this arena, the Internet is still very much alive and well.

His biggest beef, of course, is Net Neutrality regulation--or the current lack thereof. He fears that without such a "Mother, May I" regulatory regime in place, the whole cyber-world is heading for eternal damnation. Echoing the fears of other Internet hyper-pessimists, Copps concocts grand conspiracy stories of nefarious corporate schemers hell-bent on quashing our digital liberties and foreclosing all Internet freedom.

Way back in 2003, for example, Comm. Copps delivered a doozy of a sermon at the New America Foundation entitled, "The Beginning of the End of the Internet." In the speech, Copps lamented that the "Internet may be dying" and only immediate action by regulators can save the day. Copps laid on the sky-is-falling rhetoric fairly thick: "I think we are teetering on a precipice . . . we could be on the cusp of inflicting terrible damage on the Internet. If we embrace closed networks, if we turn a blind eye to discrimination, if we abandon the end-to-end principle and decide to empower only a few, we will have inflicted upon one of history's most dynamic and potentially liberating technologies shackles that make a mockery of all the good things that might have been."

But that's hardly the only such fire-and-brimstone sermon that Rev. Comm. Copps has delivered about the death of the Internet.

Google / Verizon Proposal May Be Important Compromise, But Regulatory Trajectory Concerns Many


Recently, the Washington Post opined that the best way for the FCC to "regulate the Internet" was through a moderate approach, one which places limited authority in the Commission to address behavior that violates long-standing Net Neutrality practices.

The paper notes that Net Neutrality has been "a rule tacitly understood by Internet users and providers alike" for more than a decade. It then mildly rebukes the FCC's proposal to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers - "a move [which] would be a serious step backwards," in their view.

Within this context, the Post sees important compromise in the Google / Verizon legislative proposal, "especially its designation of the FCC as an adjudicatory body such as the Federal Trade Commission rather than one with intrusive regulatory authority."

Two Schools of Internet Pessimism


[I am currently helping Berin Szoka edit a collection of essays from various Internet policy scholars for a new PFF book called "The Next Digital Decade: Essays about the Internet's Future." I plan on including two chapters of my own in the book responding to the two distinct flavors of Internet pessimism that I increasingly find are dominating discussions about Internet policy. Below you will see how the first of these two chapters begins. I welcome input as I refine this draft. ] Surveying the prevailing mood surrounding cyberlaw and Internet policy circa 2010, one is struck by the overwhelming sense of pessimism about our long-term prospects for a better future. "Internet pessimism," however, comes in two very distinct flavors: Net Skeptics, Pessimistic about the Internet Improving the Lot of Mankind: The first variant of Internet pessimism is rooted in general skepticism regarding the supposed benefits of cyberspace, digital technologies, and information abundance. The proponents of this pessimistic view often wax nostalgic about some supposed "good 'ol days" when life was much better (although they can't seem to agree when those were). At a minimum, they want us to slow down and think twice about life in the Information Age and how it is personally affecting each of us. Other times, however, their pessimism borders on neo-Ludditism, with proponents recommending steps be taken to curtail what they feel is the destructive impact of the Net or digital technologies on culture or the economy. Leading proponents of this variant of Internet pessimism include: Neil Postman (Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology), Andrew Keen, (The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture), Lee Siegel, (Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob), Mark Helprin, (Digital Barbarism) and, to a lesser degree, Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget) and Nicholas Carr (The Big Switch and The Shallows). Net Lovers, Pessimistic about the Future of Openness: A different type of Internet pessimism is on display in the work of many leading cyberlaw scholars today. Noted academics such as Lawrence Lessig, (Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace), Jonathan Zittrain (The Future of the Internet & How to Stop It), and Tim Wu (The Master Switch The Rise and Fall of Information Empires), embrace the Internet and digital technologies, but argue that they are "dying" due to a lack of sufficient care or collective oversight. In particular, they fear that the "open" Internet and "generative" digital systems are giving way to closed, proprietary systems, typically run by villainous corporations out to erect walled gardens and quash our digital liberties. Thus, they are pessimistic about the long-term survival of the wondrous Internet that we currently know and love. Despite their different concerns, two things unite these two schools of techno-pessimism.[...]

GAO: Wireless Prices Plummeting; Public Knowledge: We Must Regulate!


So, the GAO recently released a report on the wireless industry and found that:

The biggest changes in the wireless industry since 2000 have been consolidation among wireless carriers and increased use of wireless services by consumers. Industry consolidation has made it more difficult for small and regional carriers to be competitive. Difficulties for these carriers include securing subscribers, making network investments, and offering the latest wireless phones necessary to compete in this dynamic industry. Nevertheless, consumers have also seen benefits, such as generally lower prices, which are approximately 50 percent less than 1999 prices, and better coverage.

Now, if you are a self-described "consumer advocate," I would hope the bottom line here is pretty straightforward and refreshing: Prices fell by 50% in 10 years. That alone is an amazing success story. But that's not the end of the story. The more important fact is that prices fell by that much while innovation in this sector was also flourishing. Do you remember the phone you carried in your pocket -- if you could fit it in your pocket at all -- ten years ago? It was a pretty rudimentary device. It made calls and... well... it made calls. Now, think about the mini-computer that sits in your pocket right now. Stunning little piece of kit. It can text. It can do email. It can get Internet access. You can Twitter on it. Oh, and you can still make calls on it (but who wants to do that anymore!)

The point is, this is a great American capitalist success story that everyone -- especially "consumer advocates" -- should be celebrating. So, what does Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn have to say?

"These trends do not bode well for consumers, despite any benefits of the moment," she told Ars Technica.

Wait, what?

The Broadband Investment Leviathan


The August 5th issue of The Economist had a compelling cover story entitled "Leviathan, Inc." in which the author notes "[p]oliticians are reviving the notion that intervening in individual industries and companies can drive growth and create jobs." But direct, long-term government management of companies, corporations or, worst yet, entire industries has proven time and again not to be successful.

Simply put, the head of a company makes decisions to maximize the outcome for that company and its owners or shareholders. Any government employee—even one in a role as acting head of a private company—is legally required to make decisions under a far stricter set of guidelines. Guidelines which force the decisions to be made for what is best not for the business they are charged with operating, but for the country as a whole. This is the case even if the decision made by the bureaucrat will result in a 'net negative' to the company and its owners/shareholders.

The article's anonymous author suggests that instead of "pick[ing] winners and coddl[ing] losers," government should improve the environment for all business by reducing regulations, investing in infrastructure, and "encourage winners to emerge by themselves, for example through the sort of incentive prizes that are growing increasingly popular."

Governments Privatizing Public Utilities Even As Some Want to Convert Internet Into One


Two articles of interest in today's Wall Street Journal with indirect impact on the debate over the future of Internet policy. First, there's a front-page story ("Facing Budget Gaps, Cities Sell Parking, Airports, Zoo") documenting how many cities are privatizing various services -- including some considered "public utilities" -- in order to help balance budgets. The article worries about "fire-sale" prices and the loss of long-term revenue because of the privatizations. But the author correctly notes that the more important rationale for privatization is that, "In many cases, the private takeover of government-controlled industry or services can result in more efficient and profitable operations." Moreover, any concern about "fire-sale" prices and long-term revenue losses have to be stacked again the massive inefficiencies / costs associated with ongoing government management of resources /networks.

Of course, what's so ironic about this latest privatization wave is that it comes at a time when some regulatory activists are clamoring for more regulation of the Internet and calling for broadband to be converted into a plain-vanilla public utility. For example, Free Press founder Robert McChesney has argued that "What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility." That certainly doesn't seem wise in light of the track record of past experiments with government-owned or regulated utilities. And the fact that we are talking about something as complex and fast-moving as the Internet and digital networks makes the task even more daunting.

Government mismanagement of complex technology projects was on display in a second article in today's Journal ("U.S. Reviews Tech Spending.") Amy Schatz notes that "Obama administration officials are considering overhauling 26 troubled federal technology projects valued at as much as $30 billion as part of a broader effort by White House budget officials to cut spending. Projects on the list are either over budget, haven't worked as expected or both, say Office of Management and Budget officials." I'm pleased to hear that the Administration is taking steps to rectify such waste and mismanagement, but let's not lose sight of the fact that this is the same government that the Free Press folks want to run the Internet. Not smart.

Crovitz on the Great Internet Optimist vs. Pessimist Debate


(image) I've noted here before that Gordon Crovitz is my favorite technology policy columnist and that everything he pens for his "Information Age" column for The Wall Street Journal is well worth reading. His latest might be his best ever. It touches upon the great debate between Internet optimists and pessimists regarding the impact of digital technology on our culture and economy. His title is just perfect: "Is Technology Good or Bad? Yes." His point is that you can find evidence that technological change has both beneficial and detrimental impacts, and plenty of people on both sides of the debate to cite it for you.

He specifically references the leading pessimist, Nicholas Carr, and optimist, Clay Shirky, of our time. In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google, Carr paints a dismal portrait of what the Internet is doing us and the world around us. Clay Shirky responds in books like Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in the a Connected Age, arguing that we are much better off because of the rise of the Net and digital technology.

This is a subject I've spent a lot of time noodling over here through the years and, most recently, I compiled all my random thoughts into a mega-post asking, "Are You an Internet Optimist or Pessimist?" That post tracks all the leading texts on both sides of this debate. I was tickled, therefore, when Gordon contacted me and asked for comment for his story after seeing my piece. [See, people really do still read blogs!]

MPAA Ratings Are Better Than the Alternative


Back in March, the Motion Picture Association of America re-launched its film-rating website, While this may be old news to some, I just learned about it from a post on BoingBoing which makes fun of the rationales given for the ratings, which are available on the new website. Example: The movie "3 Ninjas Knuckle Up" was "rated PG-13 for non-stop ninja action."

Net Neutrality, Banned Business Models & Price Controls


I continue to be mystified by the contention of some Net neutrality advocates that it is not a form of economic regulation. The reality, of course, is that Net neutrality would ban business models and necessitate price controls. If that ain't regulation, I don't know what is. As Robert Litan and Hal Singer note in their new Harvard Business Review essay, "Why Business Should Oppose Net Neutrality," "Non-discrimination under the FCC's net neutrality proposal means that ISPs cannot offer enhanced services beyond the plain-vanilla access service to content providers at any price." Thus, any type of service prioritization or price discrimination would be prohibited under the FCC's Net neutrality regulatory regime.

As I explained in this earlier essay and in the video below, this would be a disaster for investment, innovation, and consumer welfare. Differentiated and prioritized services and pricing are part of almost every industrial sector in a capitalistic economy, and there's no reason things should it be any different for broadband. As Litan and Singer note, "The concept of premium services and upgrades should be second-nature to businesses. From next-day delivery of packages to airport lounges, businesses value the option of upgrading when necessary. That one customer chooses to purchase the upgrade while the next opts out would never be considered 'discriminatory.'"

And let's not forget, something has to pay for Internet access and investment in new facilities. Differentiated services can help by allowing carriers to price more intensive or specialized users and uses to ensure that carriers don't have to hit everyone - including average household users - with the same bill for service. Why would we want to make that illegal through Net neutrality regulation and the misguided price control schemes of a bygone regulatory era?

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