Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We're all (not just) journalists now

No doubt Prof. Lessig’s call for a rethinking of copyright and intellectual property laws so as to enable creativity to flourish is a much apt approach to the wave of developments ushered in by the information revolution. But the emphasis on ‘relaxing for purposes of creativity’ (if I may use this simplistic redaction) has gotten me to consider the flipside and the equally valid need to ensure that the novel opportunities made possible by information technology are not so unfettered as to wreak havoc on other things worth preserving and advancing. Simply put, the freedom to create and express is one thing, accountability for what one creates and expresses is another.

Scott Gant, a Washington DC law partner and counsel to The New Republic declares: We’re all journalists now. As Gant puts it, journalism should no longer be considered a profession – exclusive to those who are equipped with ‘what it takes’ to practice it – but an activity open for citizen journalists to undertake. But therein lies the difficulty, for journalism is not just about describing scenes or recording events; it is not just about relaying happenings. The task of informing the citizenry is an undertaking that must conform to standards as to quality, ethics and reliability, among others. Indeed, that the press is referred to as the fourth estate speaks volumes of the complexities that communicating with the public entails.

Today we see dozens of bloggers with equally myriad takes on everything from the mundane to the exceptional, each convinced as to the veracity and validity of his assertions. A blogger friend could not have put his sentiments any more clearly; confronted as to statements that our other friends found offensive, he bannered on his blog: “This is my space and I can say what I want”. While some Facebook and Twitter users may have opened accounts solely for maintaining ties with friends, others have used social networking to frame issues, advocate their views and spark discussions. But what to them may be an enlightening effort to frame issues via trending may, to others, simply be unsolicited flooding; what to them may be the simple espousal of views may, to others, be hardline stances that tend to alienate rather than include; what to them may be efforts to discuss and debate, may, to others, be nothing more than outright aggression. And even these examples seem innocuous, paling in comparison to the patently defamatory, offensive, and abrasive purposes for which others have used the internet.

These concerns thus call to mind a concept frequently invoked when, in constitutional law, we speak of freedoms: balancing of interests. By way of a rudimentary enumeration, involved here are property rights in respect of those whose works are made available online; free speech and expression in respect of those who create, whether originally or by transforming (what Prof. Lessig calls remixing); the privacy of those who may be objects of what is made available online; and even the people’s right to be informed as to matters of public interest – a myriad of interests that only serve to underscore that grand task that law must accomplish. Prof. Lessig’s call for adjusting regulations that constrict rather than empower is much welcome. But legal inventiveness should also guard against excesses, even as it provides opportunities for the exercise of liberties.

Entry No. 7

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