Back in 2005, I threw away a book I was writing. Well, I didn’t exactly toss it in a garbage can or take a match to the manuscript; I just abandoned the project to work on other things, including a different book and a big law review article. I’m still mad at myself for never finishing it up because I think it put forward a provocative thesis: Censorship is dead. Specifically, as I argued in the first lines of the book, “A confluence of social, legal and, most importantly, technological developments is slowly undermining the ability of legislators and regulators, at all levels of government, to control the nature or quality of speech or media programming.” Accordingly, the running title for the book was: “The End of Censorship?: The Future of Content Controls in a World of Media Convergence.”
Anyway, I recently unearthed an old draft of this discarded manuscript and thought I might as well at least throw the introduction online. In it, I outline my thesis and the “5 Reasons Content Controls Will Break Down.” I also highlight how governments will fight back and discuss what alternatives are out there to address concerns about objectionable content. Someone out there might be interested in all this even though much of what I say here is now widely accepted or been said better by others. I’ve stripped out all the footnotes and cut out significant sections to make what follows more readable. So, here it goes…
“The End of Censorship? The Future of Content Controls in a World of Media Convergence.”
Content regulation–at least as it has been traditionally defined and enforced in the United States–is doomed. A confluence of social, legal and, most importantly, technological developments is slowly undermining the ability of legislators and regulators, at all levels of government, to control the nature or quality of speech or media programming. Specifically, it is the distribution channel-based system of content regulation employed in the U.S. and many other nations that is breaking down. That is, the ability of governments to regulate speech and expression by regulating its distribution channel or provider (such as broadcasting), represents in increasingly ineffective and illogical method of policing content flows.
The demise of traditional content controls may take many years–potentially even decades–to play out, but signs of the impending death of the old regulatory regime are already evident.