In a Friday StarTribune OpEd piece arguing to ‘save journalism’, Bruce Sanford and Bruce Brown, state the government must step in and level the playing field with ‘fair use doctrine.’ (It should be viewed with reservation whenever the word ‘fair’ is used by advocates of any political side because it usually means ‘fair to me’ and not an authentically balanced approach.) The Bruces come up with five simple (writ complex) legal maneuverings designed to muzzle free speech by ‘unapproved’ writers who comment and erect arguments contrary to the establishment. They approach the ‘renegade’ media as would the King’s sheriffs as a bunch of poachers who are encroaching on the King’s forest. Imperious in demeanor, the dynamic duo take on the public as a bunch of miscreants who are ‘stealing’ the holy words of the mainstream media and perverting them. Bruce and Bruce are hell-bent on ‘saving’ their truth from those who give their own take on the issues.
The article begins with several assumptions that inevitably sink their cause. One of the first assumptions is that our guarantee of a ‘free press’ is equal to that of ‘real journalism.’ To these authors, card carrying members of the Third Estate must be duly employed individuals of a newspaper or mainstream television or radio stations. In other words, journalism is not something which a person practices but instead a kind of union-card honorific conferred by graduation at a liberal institution and employment by approved companies. The U.S. Constitution makes no such provisions. The First Amendment declares;
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Note how the second clause, “or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;” are coupled together. The freedom of speech in general and the freedom of the press are so intertwined together because the amenders considered general speech and the publication of that speech to be considered necessary corollaries of one another. ‘The Press’ is a kind of megaphone for the free speech guarantee. Back in 1791 when this amendment was being debated, the authors understood that ‘free speech’ was indeed a hollow promise if it could only be exercised sotto voce. Press was a term which necessarily meant ‘publication’ and not ‘approved media outlet.’ But, even if you are unconcerned about the original intent, the words and their penumbras declare the same truth.
“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” screams for federal exclusions of interference. If we look at the entire amendment in toto we see a prohibition on government meddling in the thinking and expressing of their own opinions and arguments. The amendment itself is a totem to excluding the collective from interfering with the individual. The social institution of government is singled out as being completely powerless over the mind of the ordinary citizen. Religious and political thought are preserved absolutely in this amendment. So, how can we protect the authors of original expressions of thought through the use of copyright laws?
We have allowed a narrow exception to the first amendment. We allow the actual words expressing an idea to become the ‘possession’ of a person or entity. You cannot copyright an idea, only the exact expression of it. In other words, you cannot own the idea of changing copyright laws to better speak to the Internet revolution but you can copyright, “Bring copyright laws into the age of the search engine.” – Bruce and Bruce, Ltd. The authors of these words want to restrict and limit other people’s usage of specific wordings in order to ‘protect’ the established press. After all, the established press is in deep doodoo and needs ‘our’ help.
Bruce and Bruce propose five steps to ‘protecting’ the establishment press organizations. These steps are;
1. Bring copyright laws into the age of the search engine
2. federalize the ‘hot news’ doctrine
3. eliminate ownership restrictions
4. use tax policy to promote the press
5. grant an anti-trust exemption
Each and every one of these ideas flies in the face of the First Amendment in both word and intent. They would galvanize the mainstream press against any outside criticism, limit individual’s rights to ideas, expand giant corporations into even bigger entities, establish criteria for what is considered press and what is considered ‘rabble,’ and finally, make this government directed enterprise a permanent fixture on the political landscape. By siding with a group of mainstream publishers, these legal eagles are hoping to protect the established media, which is overwhelmingly collectivist in philosophy. The evidence for this is the plan’s argument for regulating the press through copyright law to gag free speech on the Internet. They are hoping this artificial monopoly of power will enable the business side of the press will once again become productive and profitable. However, the problem with the mainstream press is not freely moving information but their business model.
Bruce and Bruce have ignored the reasons behind the failures of the mainstream press. They only see governmental regulation as the path to progress. That doesn’t even begin to approach the problem. Big media holding companies leveraged, borrowed, their way into un-profitability. They owe so much because these companies were bought with borrowed money that was transferred to their books. That is the fundamental reason these companies are in such deep compost. At the same time, they have moved steadily leftward in focus. Millions of Americans refuse to buy into the blatant catering to the Democratic Party modus operandi. Why should people pay for propaganda?
These backdoor attempts to censor those on the Internet who are actually doing some critical thinking and speaking truth to power are just pure unadulterated censorship. Even if there is a flood of free information flowing to and fro, it is our right as Americans to take advantage of it. We have the inalienable right to speak, write, and argue the issues of the day using whatever means necessary to do so. We cannot allow apologists for the media like Bruce and Bruce to gut our rights because a few companies are in financial disarray. That is their problem, not ours. Our rights are more important than saving the mainstream media. The plan is unconstitutional and misguided. In fact, all it will do is stifle the truth.