Back in college, my minor was E-business. As part of that minor, I was required to take a “Law for E-Commerce” class. I found the class very interesting, and I learned quite a bit that I still use today. However, I would cringe whenever the Professor, also a Lawyer in Northern Virginia, would try to explain technical topics such as MP3 file sharing (still very primitive back then), the DMCA, and what laws protect things such as domain parking, among other things. I remember defending my answer on a test, in which she claimed MP3 file sharing was illegal to do on a personal level. I argued it was covered under Fair Use policy, and that no successful case that I’m aware of has successfully made it through court with a guilty conviction placed upon a single file sharer (most have been settled out of court). She argued MP3 file sharing was illegal based on the DMCA! I challenged her to show me where in the DMCA it was deemed illegal and she could not come up with a clause that supported her statement. I got an A on that test.
I came across a great article today by John Dvorak, one of my favorite technical commentators on the web. In the article, he ratifies my point that Lawyers are behind the times. He talks about the recent fiasco on Digg.com in which someone posted the cracked HD DVD key (09-f9-11-02-9d-74-e3-5b-d8-41-56-c5-63-56-88-c0), and Digg received a cease and desist to remove the article. Digg promptly removed the article, and the public Digg.com community responded furiously, with at one time the entire front page of Digg consisting of nothing but the above key. The public had spoken, and Digg decided not to censor the key any more. Funny thing is, now the key was even more popular than ever before.
Dvorak has it right – the lawyers of today just don’t get it! I’m not sure what they need to do in order to get it, but maybe hanging out with their kids or something might help. Talk to a computer geek, maybe join a social networking site or something. What lawyers thought was a simple cease and desist, something law school taught them to do, ended up being a PR nightmare for the company defending the HD DVD key. Now it is more known than ever, and there’s no going back.
As for my college professor, when I finished the class she was defending an MP3 sharing case. Oh the poor soul she was defending!