21 June 2007

Eric Goldman on Dumb Laws

Eric Goldman offers selected dumb laws at this blog:

* New Mexico's proposal to declare Pluto a planet when it "passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies." This alone wouldn't make the list, but when combined with the simultaneous proposal to declare the bolo tie the official tie of New Mexico, I start thinking I should move to New Mexico because clearly they don't have any real problems to preoccupy legislators.

* New York's proposal to ban domain name sales to terrorists.

* Utah's clueless attempt to ban keyword advertising.

Given the amount of vitriol I've directed at the Utah law, you might think Utah has already sewn up the prize. But the year is still young, and legislators are still busy. Consider HR 2553, proposed by Rep. Watson (D-CA). The main operative provision of this law requires our foreign embassies and consulate offices to "schedule public showings of American films that showcase American culture, society, values, and history." According to the Hollywood Reporter, Rep. Watson thinks that "wider worldwide exposure to classic Hollywood fare will help convince people that the American way is not evil."

Despite the scorn it receives from Mr. Goldman, I actually think that Watson is on the right track, but doesn't go far enough.

Consider. There are many places in the world with regimes whose policies we really, really deeply disagree with, like Iran and China and Burma and Saudi Arabia, that don't protect free speech and freedom of the press. In these places are huge blackmarket industries in the business of distributing American ideas in the form of movies, music and books, to the general public, to the great consternation of the authoritarian governments in charge of those countries.

What do American dipolmats in those countries, like idiots, do? They reinforce these authoritarian regimes censorship policies by insisting that the regimes shut down the black market in bookleg copies of American media.

This may be in the interest of the American media industry, although honestly, I doubt that many of these places would purchase much of this media on the legitimate, royalty paying market, because the regimes there don't want people to have access to this media. China, for example, routinely censors news from such scandalous sources of Reuters.

But, this is a policy that is not in the American national security interest. The American national security interest is in getting people in oppressive regimes to think more like Americans and less like feudal serfs. The black market media industry in these countries does that in spades, with more street credibility than an official government propoganda effort by American diplomats ever could.

Hence, my proposed policy: Rather than trying to shut down bookleg media distribution to customers in oppressive regimes, we should establish a formal exception to American copyright laws for this media, and should encourage this kind of activity. For example, maybe we could pay the NSA to set up a free bootleg download service accessable from the internet in these countries, maybe the Navy could have submarines provide free Wi-Fi to areas under dictatorial regimes, and maybe the CIA could smuggle bootleg media into these countries. A generation from now, it would look like a very wise investment.

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