Lior’s two recent posts on driving focus on the possibility of distributed reputation systems as a means of enforcing driving rules (and more generally). I want to consider a different alternative: automatic tickets.
I haven’t received that many driving tickets over time, but it is always startling to see the flashing blue light behind you. We had a new startle the other day at my house: my wife got a ticket in the mail for—I will say allegedly—running a red light. No blue lights, no “may we see your registration, please mam,” just a ticket in the mail with two pictures. One picture purported to be our minivan and a red light—very hard to make out the color of the light in the picture— the second was a close up of our license plate. The ticket says that all of this was done automatically. (In my wife’s defense, I was test-driving a new car in front of her and she was following me to the dealership’s remote lot; I should have stopped on the yellow to keep the cars together; mea culpa (though my wife doesn’t read the blog).)
But the issue of interest is the title of the post: do we like automated tickets (and what does that have to do with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act)?
Start with automated tickets. This is an old question about law enforcement but a genuine issue today. We now have available lower-cost ways of enforcing traffic laws. A regime that had been highly-dependent on expensive labor can be replaced, at least in part, with an automated system. The automated system should generate more routine enforcement of traffic laws and thus should be more evenly applied. Better law enforcement and therefore better law.
The Chicago system is set up so that on receiving the ticket, you can pay up and be done (with no points charged against your license) or you can go to court to dispute the ticket. Given the time involved, we paid our money, even though it isn’t clear to us that the light was actually red.
So think of the system as an automatic low-cost law enforcement system coupled with a more expensive system for individuating results (going to court to dispute the ticket). The system will make errors—our case perhaps—but so does one run by police officers sitting in cars. Should we regard the automated system as a huge step forward for law, assuming fewer errors? Better enforcement of the applicable law at lower cost?
As for the DMCA, part of the dispute here is about creating a low-cost system for enforcing copyright law. I think we should want lower cost ways to enforce laws—holding everything else equal—but we should test this idea in other contexts, like that of automated tickets.