June 28, 2005

The Supremes Pass Judgement

I might as well advertise for Paxil. But in case you haven't heard, here are two things to be depressed about.

(1) The Hollywood Copyright Cartel wins against P2P Software

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that software companies can be held liable for copyright infringement when individuals use their technology to download songs and movies illegally.

The unanimous decision handed the music and movie industries a crucial victory in their ongoing battle to curb Internet piracy -- a campaign centered on lobbying for new laws, filing thousands of lawsuits against Internet users, and winning a ruling from the nation's highest court.

Their victory Monday on the third piece of that strategy dealt a big blow to technology companies, which claim that holding them accountable for the illegal downloading of songs, movies, video games and other proprietary products would stifle their ability to develop new products.

In MGM v. Grokster, the high court overturned a ruling that had barred Hollywood and the music industry from suing Internet services used by consumers to swap songs and movies for free. (LINK)
Thanks. Now every innovative software developer who has an original idea will think twice before writing a line of code, just in case some anonymous user could possibly misuse his software for malicious purposes. Not even malicious purposes, just ones that might theoretically take future profits from the richest 400-pound gorilla in the legal world. I don't think even THEY believe their "losses" to internet music piracy numbers anymore.

What other industry would hold the manufacturers responsible for the user's actions? The tobacco industy is, but that's mostly because there is no healthy way to use their product. What about the firearms industry? Guns can be used legally to defend yourself from an intruder, or illegally to commit murder, but Smith and Wesson aren't being sued. Personally, I don't think they should be, but why is it that the manufacturers have not been legally deemed liable for their customer's actions, like the software industry? Because the plaintiffs in that case have been citizen groups and not multi-billion dollar lobbying groups.

(2) Eminent Domain Granted to Private Companies

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court gave local governments broad power today to bulldoze homes and other private property to make way for business development, a ruling that could encourage more city-backed plans to replace small stores with big-box retailers.

The 5-4 ruling upheld a plan by officials in a coastal Connecticut town to condemn nine homes of longtime residents that would be replaced with an office complex and a marina.

In the mid-20th century, the court said officials could condemn homes and stores in "blighted" areas as part of a redevelopment plan. That 1954 decision helped trigger various urban renewal projects across the nation. In today's decision, the court went a step further and said officials need not claim they were condemning blighted properties or clearing slums. Now, as long as officials hope to create jobs or raise tax collections, they can seize the homes of unwilling sellers, the court said. This "public purpose" is a "public use" of the land, the court said in Kelo vs. New London.
By and large, not many people opposed the rationale of Eminent Domain rule before. The Arthur Dents of the world would naturally be opposed to their homes being bulldozed to make way for highway bypasses, but at least there was some tangible public good that would become of it.

Not so today. Thanks to this new decision, there doesn't even have to be any SPECIFIC USE intended for your land anymore. Let's say Bubba saves his retirement nest egg to buy a nice piece of property on Lake Lanier. Under this new law, it can be seized by local governments to put a private company's hotel resort, because tax revenues from the hotel and worker wages would net the government more money. Bubba could be evicted from the land he purchased and not compensated a penny, and that's perfectly legal.

Two cases of the Supreme Court bowing to the needs of private firm with huge lobbies over the rights of individuals. How long do you think it will be before Bush re-introduces the Right of Prima Nocta - wherein local politicians claim the right to sleep with all new brides on their wedding night?

1 comment:

  1. I'm all with you that this is a bad decision, one that severely weakens private property rights, which are the basis of capitalism itself, but I should point out that under eminent domain the property owner does have to be compensated for their property. The only problem is that the price is based on fair market value before the development - far below the price they would get from a developer wanting the property if they had the power to bargain for a price.