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Week 3 Discussion – Copyright Law vs. Free Speech

Since the ratification of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1791, Congress has been prohibited from making any law “abridging the freedom of speech.” Clearly, at that time the framers did not anticipate radio, television, the movies, computers, computer programs, or the Internet. As radio, television, and the movies became important at the beginning and middle of the twentieth century, they gave rise to free speech issues. As the Internet moves into virtually everyone’s home and place of work in the twenty-first century, First Amendment issues have arisen and will continue to arise.

A major contemporary legal debate today concerns free speech rights in the context of intellectual property in digital form that is encrypted to prevent its unauthorized copying and use.

If you buy a book, you can read it, throw it away, give it to someone else, or sell it to a used bookstore. Once you have bought it, you can legally do just about anything with it except make copies for resale. There is no way that the owner of the intellectual property contained in that book can insert an encryption system to prevent you from letting someone else read it. In contrast, any form of digitized intellectual property can contain an encryption system.

At issue in the twenty-first century is the trade-off between the necessity of writers, musicians, artists, and movie studios to profit from their work and the free flow of ideas for the public’s benefit. Movie (and music) industry participants claim that encryption programs are necessary to prevent piracy. Others, however, argue that the law should at least allow purchasers of movies, music, and books in digital form to make limited copies for fair use. Which side of this debate do you support? Is it possible to strike an appropriate balance between the rights of both groups on this issue? Your response must provide at least two potential solutions to resolve the conflict between creatives/artists right to profit from their work and need for the fee flow of ideas for the public’s benefit.