Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bandanas, Peglegs, and Broadband

Today is the day. The RIAA's vainglorious Luddite struggle has arrived on the steps of the Supreme Court. At issue is internet piracy, but in a way that makes me shake my head in disgust. The large scale attacks of the RIAA on individual sharers, Napster, and others have been well-documented and discussed into the dirt, but the Grokster case, at issue today, takes the anti-piracy crusade yet another place it doesn't belong.

The RIAA contends that Grokster and Streamcast and limitless others who publish peer to peer sharing programs must be held liable for any piracy their programs allows. That's right. If you made it, and someone uses it for ill, EVEN IF YOU PUT WARNINGS ON IT NOT TO, you are to be held liable for the same crimes. This is the same kind of specious logic that would sue gun shop owners and gun manufacturers for crimes committed with guns, or would sue VCR makers because you can dub tapes. Or, and this is what I want to know, why not sue all the manufacturers of CD burners for allowing people to burn their own music? Logically, it is all the same and not different than what Grokster and Streamcast are doing. It doesn't surprise me at all that Harasser-in-Chief Ken Starr wrote the RIAA's legal brief.

Grokster is not without allies in this case. The Consumer Electronics Association and Electronic Frontier Foundation, not to mention eccentric, rich genius Mark Cuban are all putting themselves in Grokster's corner. As they should. And quite frankly, as all of us who support innovation in technology and the small businesses should. Go after the pirates, not the technology, especially when technology is being used for purposes the creators didn't intend. If the SCOTUS falls down on the RIAA's side, that's just going to stifle technological entrepreneurship and innovation even further.

We live in a time when intellectual property is a tough issue, but declaring war on all technology that may or may not pose a threat to it is not the answer. For more good commentary, check out Barry Ritholtz, who takes a logical sledgehammer to the starving musicians argument often made by the RIAA.