Apple won huge today in its patent battle with Samsung over smartphones (Wired).
It’s a pretty dark day for the net.
While most of the chatter at this point seems to be about how this is likely to raise the price of your smartphone (it is) or make it less good (true also), there are even more important stakes: This is about free expression in the United States.
Here’s the problem: Apple doesn’t just make great phones and tablets that are expensive, Apple makes phones and tablets that censor content.
Apple has shown consistent willingness to use its power as the holder of the keys to the hardware and the operating system to lock out content creators it doesn’t approve of. Now that Apple is able to use the patent law to snuff out competition, and now that phones are one of the most important ways in which we communicate today, Apple has become a real threat to free speech.
Assuming we have a strong open-source ecosystem, as we did with Android up to this point, if you didn’t like Apple’s censorship, then you could always just walk away. Depending on what flows from this verdict, that ability to walk away may no longer be a practical alternative.
If Apple becomes essentially the only game in town for decent smartphones, then when you are away from a computer and alone with your phone, you’ll get to see and say what Apple says you can see and say. That would be a tragedy.
Memo to the appellate lawyers for Samsung: Consider briefing a First Amendment angle here.