A few months ago, we pointed to a video by ReasonTV, which noted that the over-enforcement of copyright law today had become this generation's Prohibition
. While that might be slight (or significant) hyperbole, law professor Donald Harris has put together a fantastic paper that compares the two situations
and finds an awful lot of similarities. Harris was recently on Jerry Brito's Surprisingly Free podcast to discuss the paper, and it was a very interesting and thoughtful discussion
. It won't surprise many to recognize the obvious parallels between the situations:
Alcohol Prohibition during the 1920s and 1930s provide an historical
example of the dangers of attempting to enforce a public policy that is
inconsistent with society’s values and attitudes. Alcohol Prohibition failed
because the people effectively nullified the law through widespread civil
disobedience. There, as here, increased enforcement efforts failed. Prohibition
teaches that it is impossible to enforce broad social norms that are inconsistent
with widespread human behavior. This is consistent with compliance theory,
which posits that societal compliance with laws will occur only when society
believes the laws are just and legitimate.
In the end, Harris appears to come down in favor of a similar solution to the way that Prohibition ended: legalizing the activity in question (and regulating it). For example, he suggests that clearly-defined non-commercial file sharing could be legalized. I'm not sure that I agree completely with the argument, but it's still quite an interesting paper to read and podcast to listen to, so check them out.