Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Libertarians, bloggers and free markets

Today, Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit of blogger fame, whom I have always thought to be a libertarian, said this in a post on his site:

I DON'T LIKE THIS: "Internet radio broadcasters were dealt a setback Monday when a panel of copyright judges threw out requests to reconsider a ruling that hiked the royalties they must pay to record companies and artists. A broad group of public and private broadcasters, including radio stations, small startup companies, National Public Radio and major online sites like Yahoo Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, had objected to the new royalties set March 2, saying they would force a drastic cutback in services that are now enjoyed by some 50 million people. "

While it is literally true that "a panel of copyright judges threw out requests to reconsider a ruling that hiked the rookies they must pay to record companies and artists…," this is highly misleading. Here is what was actually done, as quoted from the article he links to:

Small broadcasters [which is to say Internet broadcasters] have received relief from Congress in the past, benefiting from a law passed five years ago that gave them a break on royalty rates. The legislation allowed them to pay about 12 percent of their revenues instead of having to calculate per-song, per-hour rates like larger companies had to.

In other words, the court, an arm of the government, has seen fit to lift artificial restrictions on the free market and permit buyers and sellers to negotiate the terms of their contracts on their own, an odd position for libertarian not to like. Maybe Glenn is not the libertarian I thought he was.

The article itself was not very informative about precisely what has transpired: Did the judges find that the law was unconstitutional? Did the law expire and the Internet broadcasters wished to extend its term? We'll never know with reporting like this. Like the mainstream media, bloggers too have their own axes to grind: in this case my impression is that their wish is that the Internet wants to be free.

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