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Which is It? Maybe Both

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Declan McCullagh on the Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference:

    At the 13th annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference, attendees fretted about shrinking privacy, growing online censorship, and their reduced ability to make “fair use” of music, video and software girded with anticopying technologies. Events included panels with titles such as “Terrorizing Rights” and enthusiastic condemnations of corporate miscreants. Anger and alarm characterized the mood.

    ….One CFP panel was devoted to applauding European-style regulations of information collection without adequate discussion of their tremendous negative economic impact. It’s no accident that the Internet has flourished the most in the United States, a country that has limited regulation when compared with European states and that has certainly nothing as invasive as the European Data Directive, which imposes strict limits on individual data collection and reuse.

    ….Regulators also prosecuted an activist who set up a Web page critical of a large bank and who named bank directors; and an animal-rights activist who published a list of fur producers. Concludes Palme: “Looking at the way the law is used, one can see that unpopular or controversial opinions are suppressed.”

    The closest thing CFPers have to an opinion leader is Larry Lessig, the law professor at Stanford University who gave a closing keynote address, which was punctuated with darkling warnings of impending cultural doom at the hands of media conglomerates. “We basically have a world where six companies control everything,” Lessig warned. “This concentration destroys the opportunity for free culture to flourish.”

    Not only did Lessig’s big-is-bad rhetoric go out of style back in the 1970s, but also, it’s not even right. Compare the entertainment choices we have today with those of three decades ago, when it was mostly movie theaters, radio and three major TV networks. Now we have satellite TV, satellite radio, DVDs, CDs, video-on-demand, hundreds of cable channels, movie rentals and, of course, the Internet. Thanks in no small part to technology, culture is flourishing, not flagging.

    The claim of “greatly diminished and less free culture so completely flies in the face of lived reality in 21st century America vs. 1970 America,” says Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie, who sparred with Lessig during a question-and-answer period. “In terms of television and movies, there’s no question that people can watch more entertainment of a more broadly diverse, fascinating multilingual character than they could in 1970…I think that holds true in every other cultural form with few exceptions.” [CNET]

McCullagh’s point is the libertarian view that we have far more to fear from government than from corporations.

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