Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Day Grokster Didn't Come Down

Countless people were glued to their monitors around 10 am EST yesterday to learn whether the Supreme Court had handed down the Grokster opinion. A pdf file was sure to surface quickly. With a decision day this Thursday and next Monday, the process will be repeated.

How times have changed. I remember vividly sitting in the Supreme Court chamber in 1983 on the last day of the term, waiting for the Betamax decision to be announced, only to be disappointed (along with many others in attendance) that it had been set over for reargument. Reporters and lawyers rushed off for pay phones (no cell phones or Blackberries in 1983) to convey the news.

Two years later, in 1985, when Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises was decided, I went over to the Court and stood in line at the Public Information Office on decision days hoping it would come out. It did on my first try and the Court cited in the opinion a book on fair use I had just published. It was my first citation by any Court and it was a dizzying experience seeing the opinion in hard copy, holding the opinion in my hand, knowing I had it before anyone else (other than Linda Greenhouse and the press who got it 3 or 4 minutes earlier).

I have been to every oral argument in a copyright case (as well as some others) the Court has heard since 1983 with the exception of Lotus v. Borland, and until I moved to New York in 1995, I always later stood in the opinion line, out of a love of the experience of being in the Court. Once when standing there, I was startled by Justice O'Connor coming out of a door right in front of me, and once by Justice Blackmun breezing by. Since I worked on Capitol Hill, I sometimes had a picnic lunch on the Court grounds. One day I saw Justice Rehnquist leave with one person (not security) and come back a few minutes later with another person (also not security). I couldn't figure out why he changed friends so quickly, but he was very friendly, waiving to me both times, as was Jesse Helms when we once sat together on an internal subway in the Senate after he had just trashed a nominee to the Eleventh Circuit (Judge Barkett). At a lunch in the Supreme Court for Congressional staff I sat between Senators Strom Thurmond (whose hair was the color of Tang) and Howell Heflin (who looked less like a person and more like some vague force of nature).

I doubt one has as many such experiences now, post 9/11, and while those who stand in line at the Public Information Office still see opinions first -- given how slow the Court is in putting things on its website -- the rest of the world catches up very quickly. That's a good thing, but I still treasure my memories from a different era.

1 comment:

Timothy Phillips said...

In the early 20th century Hiamovi, an elder of the Cheyenne Nation, told Natalie Curtis (1875-1921) that "Nobody now remembers the time when we had no horses. Only the old people tell of it."

Soon "only the old people" will remember the time when we had no computers. Then we, in our turn, will be the last generation to remember slide rules, and the time before hand-calculators and desktop computers.