As aggregation and news feeds become the primary way we digest information, the definitions of electronic speech will be a critical test of whether we maintain the free flow of information that we have grown accustomed to or if free press will simply wither on the vine.
The New York TImes is attempting to muddy the issues by making fun of Free Speech for Computers, but it’s not the computer that has free speech rights, but the company or owner of the machine whose freedom of expression needs protecting. The 2003 case that Mr. Wu mocks was Search King‘s lawsuit, where a search engine spamming company was manipulating Google’s algorithm and had their rankings dropped. They argued that Google was responsible for their business loss, Google was vindicated that their “search ranking results” constitutes the company’s free speech and you couldn’t sue over it. Had the case gone the other way, organic search as we know it might be dead, for anytime a site dropped in the rankings, they could sue.
Nobody would argue that my blog post isn’t free speech, or that a large company doesn’t have some basic free speech rights for a corporate blog (commercial speech, not political speech, but still speech). So what is “Computer Speech?”
Any site that automatically aggregates information, crawls the Internet looking for information and organizes it, or even a search engine, is being treated as “computer speech,” despite the fact that the computer is executing clearly designed behavior to express what it is intended to express. Take away that free speech, and Altavista, Google, and any other automated search engine never comes into existence, the early news aggregators never appear, sites like <a href=”http://www.reddit.com/”>Reddit</a> may never exist either.
“Computer speech” may be commercial speech, or it may be someone’s rambling opinion, and whether I express my views algorithmically as a programmer or verbally as a writer, I should be entitled to the same protections.