28 February 2014

A Last Note on Garcia and a Judgment Vacuum

... at least until the inevitable en banc motions and further appeals...

The fundamental problem with Garcia is evil, and it descends from the "right without a remedy" problem and cultural/institutional arrogance at Google. Bluntly, Google did evil in this instance, substituting its own judgment that the evil of acquiescing to a takedown demand (even one predicated on a legal theory that doesn't fit all that well) exceeds the evil done to the victim. It's sort of ironic that Google's policy-level refusal to take down distorted, harmful content depicting nonpublic persons that was achieved through — at best — false pretenses, so as to be consistent with some strange idea of "keeping the 'net free for advertising dollars," has forced this entire debate.

Garcia should not have been about copyright. Copyright is, however, the only tool left thanks to Communications Decency Act § 230 (as Professor Goldman notes toward the bottom of that entry), which itself is rather badly written. Garcia isn't even an attack on the producer who actually engaged in deception! It is, instead, an attack on a distributor that claims that the only way to ensure free and equal distribution of everything worthy of distribution is to utterly ignore the content of all distribution (except, that is, distributions that could make the distributor itself liable... or at least harm its business interests).

One of the advantages of ironclad policies, and refusals to make exceptions, is that they remove consideration of the judgment of individuals who might be evaluating claims for exceptions. If nobody has the authority to make an exception, one never need worry about an underling making a mistake, right? Well, not so fast: The decision not to trust the underlings says something rather disreputable about one's own judgment, if only in one's judgment in selecting underlings. And the intellectual gyrations engaged in here demonstrate that administrative convenience has, yet again, won over even gross judgment (let alone nuance).

On balance, I think this came out about right for the wrong reasons... with the understanding that this is not a final action, but only a preliminary injunction during the pendency of a proceeding that will probably demonstrate that any contractual defense is based upon agreements that fail for fraudulent inducement. It's an ugly situation, but it simply isn't the end of the universe, or even a severe undermining of copyright theory; the "well, she didn't do the fixation, the producer did the fixation" issue runs up against limitations on implied license to fix for only the actually agreed purpose and other issues. It's a mess. And it's the result of multiple actors doing evil, and being so careless with the paperwork that they left themselves just a little bit exposed.