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James Grimmelmann – October 25, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - 4:00pm
Gates 114

The Information Science Colloquium speaker for Wednesday, October 25, will be James Grimmelmann, a professor of law at Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School. Gimmelmann studies how laws regulating software affect freedom, wealth, and power, saying, "I try to help lawyers and technologists understand each other by writing about digital copyright, search engines, privacy on social networks, online governance, and other topics in computer and Internet law."

Talk: "Listeners' Choices and the First Amendment"

Abstract: The “freedom of speech,” it is thought, primarily protects speakers. Listeners benefit from speech, but speakers do the work requiring protection. And where speakers' and listeners' goals conflict, the conventional wisdom is that speakers win. To quote the Supreme Court. "Many are those who must endure speech they do not like, but that is a necessary cost of freedom."

This view is almost completely backwards. The reason is that freedom of speech is a matching process. Who speaks to whom is determined by speakers' and listeners' choices, technical architecture, and free-speech law. In the modern communications environment, there is a fundamental structural asymmetry between speakers and listeners, because the capacity to speak vastly exceeds the capacity to listen. In a world where attention is scarce, most of the time is a listener's choice to hear rather than a speaker's choice to speak that provides the crucial normative basis to protect the freedom of speech. There is no general principle favoring speakers over listeners: the cases that appear to take the speaker's side almost always rest on the interest of some potential listener. Paying closer attention to listeners' choices makes the structure of First Amendment doctrine clearer.