From Fairness Doctrine to Fair Use, never lose sight of the forest through the trees when fighting for your principles

I’ve covered fair use on these pages before. At a high level, the manifestation of my frustrations and drive in fighting for fair use was that rights holders originally induced us to cover their intellectual property in our editorial (2006-11), then once Google launched ContentID and mastered video advertising and became ground zero for monetization, then Google transferred its weapon of mass destruction (aka ContentID) not only to legitimate organizations that ultimately had to use said tools within the extent of the law and humane protocols, but also more shady intermediaries that totally over-stepped their rights and abused it for unlawful gain. That was the manifestation. The root of my maniacal drive to defend freedom of expression was always free and just societies and the role of freedom of expression in achieving that. Mind you, given my Iranian roots, perhaps I viewed democracy as more fragile than my peers did/do.

But the fast four years don’t require much imagination to fear what could have been. Imagine a world where Donald Trump is re-elected and then “encourages/threaten/forces” media companies like Disney and Universal Music Group to produce propaganda movies and songs to whitewash his alleged crimes and cast him favorably. Had we given in to the greed of others or capitulated to fear, we would have set a bad precedent whereby we would have lost the ability to dissect excerpts of longer works and comment, criticize them and so on – which is protected by fair use. Fair use, amongst other means, protects these democratic institutions and norms that serve as the foundation of free and just societies.

While the Fairness Doctrine is something somewhat unrelated, it echoes how everything in the realm of communications and policy can get distorted and weaponized, serving the opposite of its originally intended objective. From CNN:

Enter the Fairness Doctrine, a regulation in place from the late 1940s until 1987 that dictated balanced coverage of controversial issues on broadcast radio and television. After its repeal, Rush Limbaugh's radio show and Fox News quickly emerged to become two of the most influential political institutions in the US, the cornerstone of a right-wing media ecosystem of radio shows, cable networks and online platforms that would flourish in the coming decades.

The problem with [scrapping it] is that the Fairness Doctrine emerged in a time when the central concern was the scarcity of platforms; now, misinformation and disinformation flourish in an environment of abundance.

The Federal Communications Commission, which had wrangled with the problem of radio propaganda for more than a decade, finally settled on the Fairness Doctrine in 1949. It replaced the controversial Mayflower Doctrine, established in 1941, which barred broadcasters from editorializing on radio for fear that station owners would use their broadcast licenses to pump out propaganda. "In brief," the regulation read, "the broadcaster cannot be an advocate."The FCC could dictate to stations because the government issued their broadcast licenses. There was only so much bandwidth, so not everyone who wanted to broadcast could.

Read the whole thing and dive into our extensive series on Fair Use.