Freedom of the Press 2.0

Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 97

Center for Interdisciplinary Law and Policy Studies Working Paper Series No. 65

59 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2007

See all articles by Edward Lee

Edward Lee

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology

Date Written: August 2007


In today's digital age, copyright law is changing. It now attempts to regulate machines. Over the past twenty years, and particularly with the advent of the Internet, copyright holders have increasingly invoked copyright law to regulate directly - indeed, even to prohibit - the manufacture and sale of technology that facilitates the mass dissemination of expressive works. Although the concerns of copyright holders about the ease of digital copying are understandable, the expansion of copyright law to regulate - and, in some cases, to prohibit - technologies raises a troubling question. Can the government regulate under copyright law technologies that facilitate the dissemination of speech, consistent with the First Amendment? If so, are there any limits to what the government can do? Or does copyright law have constitutional carte blanche to regulate technologies, without any First Amendment scrutiny? Because copyright law, dating back to the first Copyright Act of 1790, traditionally refrained from regulating technologies directly, these questions were scarcely considered before. But, today, these questions have vital importance as copyright law and other laws proposed in service of copyright holders contemplate even greater regulation of emerging technologies that are revolutionizing the ability of individuals to create expressive content on the Internet, in the "Web 2.0" culture of user-created content. However, despite their importance, these questions have escaped attention in legal scholarship. This Article attempts to answer these questions by tracing the historical development of the "freedom of the press" that led to the Framers' inclusion of the concept in the First Amendment. My core thesis is twofold: (i) the Framers understood the freedom of the press as the freedom of the printing press - a speech technology - to be free of intrusive governmental regulation, including restrictions on technology imposed under copyright law; and (ii) today, the Sony safe harbor operates as a "First Amendment safeguard" within copyright law that is designed to protect the freedom of the press and the development of speech technologies. All future attempts by Congress to regulate speech technologies under copyright law must answer to the Free Press Clause or the Sony safe harbor.

Keywords: Grokster, Copyright Clause, newspapers

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K39, L82, L86, O38

Suggested Citation

Lee, Edward, Freedom of the Press 2.0 (August 2007). Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 97, Center for Interdisciplinary Law and Policy Studies Working Paper Series No. 65, Available at SSRN: or

Edward Lee (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law - Illinois Institute of Technology ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States

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