In the future, when the grey-haired historians of Geekdom choose the moment when the tech business was forced to grow up, chances are good it will be the Monday in June when Silicon Valley awoke to find out that its innovators and inventors could be held liable for their mischief.
If the tech community wants to be in business and stay in business, then it had better start acting in a businesslike manner.
The Supreme Court has given “geek determinism”—the often adolescent belief that technology will triumph and that anything that stands in its way is lame, brain dead, foolhardy and stupid—a well-deserved smack upside the head.
In its ruling today on MGM v. Grokster, the court said that the nudge-nudge, wink-wink advertising and promotion that Grokster and Streamcast engaged in to promote themselves as alternatives to Napster was inducement for customers to break the law.
First, each of the respondents showed itself to be aiming to satisfy a known source of demand for copyright infringement, the market comprising former Napster users. Respondents efforts to supply services to former Napster users indicate a principal, if not exclusive, intent to bring about infringement. Second, neither respondent attempted to develop filtering tools or other mechanisms to diminish the infringing activity using their software.”
In plainer language: If you invent it and sell it, you cant completely avoid responsibility for what youve done. Particularly if your marketing campaign relies very heavily on the “screw the man” thinking that passes for macho street cred in the geek community.
When Napster—the first peer-to-peer software promoted for its use in sharing music—was ruled illegal, most tech folks shrugged.
They knew plenty of people who were writing similar programs and it was clear to everyone that another file-sharing service would soon rise up and take over what Napster started.
Thats exactly how Grokster and Streamcasts Morpheus built their businesses; relying heavily on the tech communitys belief in its ability to change the world and the arrogance that far too often accompanies that belief.
But techies have only just started to change the world. Hollywood has been at it for a much longer period of time. They have the pretty people on their side. And the rest of their bag of tricks relies on a pretty good argument: Artists, writers, musicians and the businesses that employ them need to be compensated for their work.
eWEEK.com technology and politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog. She can be reached at [email protected]