Google For President? If Corporations Are People...
from the free-speech-and-its-consequences dept
That said, while I would remove the idea that a corporation is ever "a person," that doesn't change the fact that I would be careful about limiting any type of speech -- including a politically motivated movie, which was at the heart of this case. Instead, I tend to think that the problem is one of information (not money) asymmetry. And while it may appear idealistic, this is the sort of thing that the internet is helping to combat, even if it takes time, and there are some losses early on. In copyright policy, it's true that the entertainment industry has still been able to push through laws in its favor over the past few years, but a lot more people are paying attention to the issue, and the changes that are getting through are of much lower impact than what they used to regularly get through. I don't think that the entertainment industry would be able to push through the kind of massive sweeping changes that it has successfully pushed through in the past. Instead, I tend to agree with Julian Sanchez, in discussing a recent conversation with Larry Lessig, that points to a more organic way to respond to corporate influence on politics:
Look at it this way: We don't get draconian copyright policies because the RIAA and MPAA actually have more money, all told, than those of us who'd benefit from a more balanced intellectual property regime. They're richer, of course, but there's a lot more of us. The problem is that their resources are already pooled, and they're far more acutely aware of which side their bread is buttered on. That's the asymmetry we need to address. And as Clay Shirky has so cogently argued, we may finally have the means to do so, because for the first time in human history, we have in the Internet (and Web 2.0 especially) a mass medium that is simultaneously good at enabling interactive conversations (as the telephone does) and groups (as magazines or television did). The costs of processing and disseminating information have fallen dramatically over the past decade, and now the same is happening to the costs of organizing people and coordinating action.This doesn't mean that corporate influence has been -- or ever will be -- neutralized. But it does suggest that it's becoming easier for the voices of those actually impacted to speak up and make themselves heard. It will take a lot of effort -- and certainly, corporations are often a lot more tied into the levers of power, but there is more of an opportunity for groups of people to use information tools to their advantage, and to counter efforts by anyone, whether its corporations or individuals, to push through harmful legislation. It may seem idealistic (and, it is), but the unintended consequences of barring speech seems like it could be much worse.
That's why I think Lessig's focus on public finance as a silver bullet is less likely to bear fruit than an array of solutions that exploit transformative technology--something he's so keenly analyzed in his writing on Free Culture. My colleague Jim Harper's Washington Watch project, or the efforts of the folks at the Sunlight Foundation, are one part of the solution: Backroom deals are typically held in the back room for a reason. Sites like ActBlue and Slatecard are another, because they make it easier for a national audience to punish bad actors in their local races.