At Yale, a similar presentation was given, raising similar questions about the relevance of history.
The discussion following the presentation seemed to agree with the view that history should seldom be seen as providing simple lessons for current debates. The analysis in Richard John’s Network Nation was recommended. But there were some instances, it was observed, where history could be seen as providing guidance for current debates. An example was the fact that news publishers currently take from each other as well as publish their own material, and have done so for many years. This has consequences for contemporary debates about copyright laws, as the implementation of these is likely to detract from the revenue of news publishers, as well as contribute to it.
The discussion also raised some other interesting questions. One, for example, was that it was important to take into account the fact that there were likely to be motivations behind the development of news-related copyright laws that were not related to the interests of news producing companies? In China, for example, a news-related copyright law might be an example of an attempt to keep Google out of the country. (It might also be an example of a bare legal transplant – attempting to take a provision from one country and drop it into another. If so, there are dangers, as legal transplants may not work in the way they are intended.) Similarly, the French copyright actions related to news production may be seen as motivated by an attempt to redistribute wealth, as well as by other concerns, including a desire to protect European industry or culture from American influence.
The relationship between copyright and freedom of speech in US law was also discussed. Some audience members held the view that it did remain possible to argue a freedom of speech challenge to copyright, and that this hadn’t been precluded by decisions of the Supreme Court. They cited a 2nd Circuit appeals case – possibly Universal City Studios v Reimerdes, 111 F.Supp.2d 294 and 346.