Every day I read something that just makes me realise how little the world’s authorities and governments actually understand anything about the Internet. Today, two American legal cases show that the “establishment” is thrashing around like some dying monster, unaware of its own demise. Firstly, there’s been a major patent ruling against Vonage, the pioneers of Internet telephony. The huge $58m payout that’s been ordered by the court could cripple the company and threaten the phone service for over two million users. It may well be true that Vonage infringed patents of the US giant, Verizon. But even so, the huge rise in the use of Internet telephony means that in spite of back room legal arguments, the public will still want the benefits. To them, patents don’t matter as it is not perceived as an “invention”, unlike the original telephone. To the users of Internet telephony, it’s just another web application – and the web is free. In the Vonage vs Verizon case, the courts may be legally correct, but the law is clearly way behind the times.
Equally, in a separate US case, there has been a copyright ruling that means Internet radio stations will have to pay double the fees they currently pay for playing music online. Right at a pivotal moment in cultural change whereby people are shifting their consumption of music into the online world, along comes the establishment to try and put a stop to it.
In both these cases, it’s probably not any kind of conspiracy against the Internet; it’s the legal authorities performing their duties. But the law and the governments that make such law is woefully uninformed and drastically out of date on what is happening online and how people are behaving online. As we see more and more of these rulings and protestations about the Internet from governments, what we are really witnessing is the beginning of the end of governance. And that has huge implications for all sectors of society – especially business.