More Clear Thinking on Grokster, and Taking It One Step Further

Following up on yesterday’s remarks, today I see that Ross Rubin’s Switched On column at Engadget also focuses on the specifics of the Court’s Grokster decision, rather than taking it as a wholesale attack on mp3 technologies:

The upshot is that, even though most consumer electronics products should be in the clear, the Grokster case will likely remind manufacturers to play it safe by ensuring that the advertising and primary appeal around their products is not designed around fostering infringement.

However, one downside noted by Rubin is that the Court did cite Grokster’s failure to attempt to stop infringing uses as a contributing factor in its decision. Therefore he thinks we’ll see more devices that specifically limit or block sharing — something that the iPod, for instance, already does.

For his final point, Rubin looks to Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge, noting that “this was a case about business models, not technology.” Indeed, that’s part of the point I was trying to make yesterday.

And so, on the claim that the Grokster decision will inhibit innovation, I have to ask, “what kind of innovation?” With the contemporary techno-fetish of the amorphously defined concept of “innovation,” we have to ask what it means to inhibit innovation.

In this case, the kind of innovation that is directly blocked is corporate profit derived from creating a product marketed to share music in contravention to existing laws.

Regardless of what I think about the validity of those laws, I am also critical of corporate profit, period. I don’t cry when Enron is busted for breaking laws, why would I cry for Grokster? I don’t buy the claim that Grokster had any right to profit from their network, just like I don’t buy Enron’s right to profit.

So, the kind of innovation I’d like to see are anonymous P2P networks that take a model like BitTorrent and make it better for sharing high-bandwidth independent media materials across borders and in a way that protects producers and viewers from governments and corporations.

We don’t need a corporate sponsor, like Grokster, for that to happen, and this decision doesn’t necessarily get in its way.