Similarly, the ability to copy and distribute information in digital form to vastnumbers of people has, equally predictably, led to substantial and well-publicizeddisputes about the “ownership” of the bits whizzing around the network.
Coincidentally or not, in no subjects in the law was Jeﬀerson more interested,and about no subjects in the law did he have more interesting and important thingsto say, than these two.His views regarding the line between permissible and impermissible speech were pretty simple—there shouldn’t be any line, because there shouldn’t be any impermissible speech. Jefferson was America’s first, and probably its greatest,First Amendment absolutist
; he wasn’t kidding when he said
were it left to me
down the CDA on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedomof speech. A list of all of the headlines using the word “Internet” that appeared on the frontpage of the
New York Times
prior to 1998 makes for interesting reading:Doubts on Internet—August 10, 1994The ’96 Race on the Internet: Surfer Beware—October 23, 1995China Issues Rules to Monitor Internet—February 5, 1996Judge Blocks a Law on Smut on Internet—February 16, 1996Judges Turn Back Law to Regulate Internet Decency—June 13, 1996Court Weighs Rules on Internet Decency—March 20, 1997U.S. Rebuﬀed in Global Proposal for Eavesdropping on the Internet—March 27, 1997A Seductive Drug Culture Flourishes on the Internet—June 20, 1997The Supreme Court, 9–0, Upholds State Laws Prohibiting Assisted Suicide; ProtectsSpeech on Internet—June 27, 1997Ignored Warning Leads to Chaos on the Internet—July 18, 1997U.S. to Go Back on Internet with Social Security Beneﬁts—September 4, 1997Internet’s Value in U.S. Schools Still in Question—October 25, 1997Sex, drugs, and—with the Napster and other peer-to-peer ﬁle-sharing cases on thehorizon—rock and roll to follow.
The well-known Napster story, told in
New York Times
front page headlines:Potent Software Escalates Music Industry’s Jitters, (March 7, 2000);Unknown Musicians Find Payoﬀs Online (July 20, 2000);Cyberspace Programmers Confront Copyright Laws. (May 10, 2000).Then:In Victory for Recording Industry, Judge Bars Online Music Sharing (July 27, 2000), butFor Many Fans of Online Music, U.S. Court Ruling Is Call to Arms (July 28, 2000).
The other great First Amendment absolutist was Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black,famous (and, these days, often mocked) for his view that “no law means
”—that whathe called the First Amendment’s “emphatic command” that “Congress shall make no lawabridging the freedom of speech or of the press” was to be taken literally, and absolutely.