January 23, 2012
I don’t have a lot to add to the excellent overviews and insightful commentary the SOPA/PIPA debacle, but I thought I would round up a couple of thoughts as well as some of my favorite posts related to it.
SOPA and PIPA may be history for now, but you can be sure that they’ll be back in some form or another. As a result, the big question that interests me about this particular policy fight has to do with its implications for the distribution of political power around knowledge and technology policy.
The big story in this sense is that a quite substantial sub-population of the Internet’s most active users and most powerful organizations decided to blackout their sites on Wednesday. The blackout left Reddit, Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, AND MORE at least partially disabled for the better part of the day.
This more popular activism has been matched by aggressive lobbying, testifying, wheeling & dealing on the Hill by a staggering coalition of Silicon Valley companies.
Both the majority of these companies as well as these large online collectives and communities have only begun to find their political voices. Moments like these – when groups coalesce around particular common causes and realize that they wield immense collective power can sometimes look really important after the fact when (say, twenty years from now) we’re living in a world where the MPAA and RIAA have continued to waste away and the bottom lines (and political arms) of the Googles, Facebooks, and Twitters of the world are likely to be doing even more heavy lifting in terms of national GDP and policy impact.
Will this be such a turning point? I think one of the biggest obstacles to long term transformation is the anti-political ideology that prevails among many Silicon Valley elites. By and large, many Silicon Valley companies would prefer to avoid public scrutiny even understand what it is they are trying to create (much less regulate it or use it effectively). This is an unfortunate reality because it means that it will take a very long time for the Valley to really catch Hollywood when it comes to political muscle.
There has also been very little overlap or effective attempts by Silicon Valley to harness the public opposition to Hollywood’s positions. Maybe the SOPA/PIPA experience can facilitate some organizational alliances and capacity building to fill that gap.
Read what other Berkman Center affiliates had to say about SOPA/PIPA this week.
The interdisciplinary open-access journal, Knowledge Ecology Studies has published a short essay of mine about the proposed “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” (ACTA) in their current volume.
My paper looks at some of the history behind ACTA and considers the most troubling aspects of the agreement.
As currently proposed by the United States (through the office of the U.S. Trade Representative), the European Commission, Switzerland, and Japan, ACTA threatens business interests, civil liberties, consumer rights and democratic governance.
If such an extensive laundry list of bad sounds improbable to you, I encourage you to read the essay (and contact me). The agreement could be signed within the next few months – unless sufficient opposition forms to alter its scope.
I’ll be writing more about ACTA (and other misguided attempts to impose overly-restrictive IP enforcement regimes) here in the coming weeks. In particular, I plan to analyze some of the economic and strategic reasons why more restrictive IP enforcement will not enhance innovation, market growth, or security. My sense is that the folks behind this treaty have either forgotten (or ignored) these realitie
Whether or not you have any interest in my essay, I highly recommend the other work in KE Studies. This issue includes an entertaining and thought-provoking interview with Bruce Sterling; a rigorous analysis of prize systems by Ron Marchant; and an important study (in French) on the impact of new restrictive IP regimes on access to HIV/AIDS anti-retrovirals in Morocco by Gaelle Pascale Krikorian, Kamal Marhoum El Filali, and Hakima Himmich.
(Photo credit: “Orange plug,” by nic0 (via Flickr). CC-BY-NC-SA)
Andrea Foster filed a story with The Chronicle of Higher Education that should send a chill down students’ spines everywhere.
As if the recent spike in bogus copyright infringement lawsuits gushing out of the RIAA and MPAA wasn’t enough, it looks like these organizations are taking their fight to state legislators. Here’s the story’s lede:
Higher-education officials say that the entertainment industry is pushing for state laws that would force colleges to police their networks for illegal trading of music and video files and to buy software to stem the problem.
Lawmakers in Tennessee and Illinois recently considered such legislation, and a similar bill may be brewing in California, according to officials who spoke at a technology-policy conference here on Thursday.
To be honest, I’m kind of surprised they haven’t tried something like this in California already – after all, the RIAA and MPAA practically own L.A….
There is no legislation in California to deter file sharing on college campuses. But Kent Wada, director of information-technology strategic policy at the University of California at Los Angeles, told the technology officials at the conference Thursday that there was an “informational hearing” in the State Capitol in March to discuss the issue. Among those speaking at the meeting was Mitch Glazier, senior vice president of government relations and industry relations for the RIAA
My favorite quote comes from an earlier story in The Chronicle for Higher Ed., in which Foster interviews Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, about the recent jump in aggressive lawsuits filed by his organization against alleged copyright infringers. Check out this gem:
“There’s just no connection to anything that’s happening in Congress, in the courts, or anything else,” Mr. Sherman said. He added that the increase in notifications did not mean that there had been a sudden rise in campus piracy. “We’re constantly asking our vendor to improve performance,” of its software that scans for copyright violations online, Mr. Sherman said. “They just completed work on an upgrade and, poof, it just happened.”
Did he actually say that with a straight face? Does anyone believe this joker?
If anybody else out there has a stake in a California educational institution, this might be a good time to contact your local administrators, legislators, etc. California has better things to do with its time and (empty) state coffers than play toy cop for the culture industry.
In the case of UC Berkeley, the University’s Chief Information Officer is Shel Waggener. Shel is quite a brilliant guy who is almost certainly already aware of this issue and probably already working on it. I think I might send him a quick email, though, just to be sure…
May 12, 2008
I missed this when it first came out a couple of days ago: the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Richard Esquerra offers another insightful critique of the so-called PRO-IP Act, also known as H.R.4279.
Here’s my favorite piece of Esquerra’s argument against the bill:
The most outrageous provisions would create new and unnecessary federal bureaucracies devoted to intellectual property enforcement. None seems more ridiculous than language creating a Cabinet-level “IP enforcement czar” that would report to the President and coordinate enforcement efforts across government, a proposal that has been loudly opposed by the Department of Justice. Why is Congress spending our tax dollars on a new layer of officialdom that the cops themselves don’t want or need?
But I digress…here’s more from Esquerra (with a little emphasis added):
Moreover, the bill also includes provisions — such as expanded forfeiture penalties and language “clarifying” that copyright registration is not required for criminal enforcement of the copyright — that could be read to open the door to increased prosecution against individuals or innovators as well as large-scale commercial pirates.
Increased prosecution against individuals and innovators?! As if the courts weren’t already clogged with the specious arguments of record companies, software firms, etc.
Until someone adequately explains otherwise, I’m going to maintain that H.R.4279 is a digital pork fest thinly disguised as actual policy-making.
It always hurts a little when an idea for a blog post or an article gets scooped. But at least it hurts a little less when someone as insightful and engaging as Tim Wu does it…
Wu’s latest piece at Slate draws up a short list of priorities that an American president-elect ought to think about. They are:
- appoint a broadband czar
- create an FCC dream team
- fix international tech policy
- implement the technology of transparent government
- find long term solutions for (a) immigration and (b) the patent system
He goes on to provide detail in each of these areas, mixing his analysis with an assortment of humorous analogies linking George W. Bush and Nero, Dracula and Brezhnev, respectively.
While I enjoyed the article, it left me thinking about where Barack Obama falls on these issues. It’s worth noting that Wu has a horse in this race (as he discloses clearly in this related interview with Open Left’s Matt Stoller from about two months ago) and that his wish list reads like a reiteration of his rationale for supporting for Obama (like I said, read the interview).
An old blog post by Larry Lessig (in fact, the post from November, 2007 in which Lessig announced his support for Obama) has a pretty detailed discussion of the candidate’s tech policies at the time as well as a link to a useful policy statement of Obama’s Innovation and Technology Plan (PDF).
Lessig heralds Obama’s commitment “to important and importantly balanced positions” demonstrated by the plan. For the most part, I agree with this assessment, but I think it’s worth pointing out some of the places where Obama’s plan might not quite live up to the Tim Wu gold-standard. The key lies in the plan’s ambiguity in certain areas.
The plan states that Obama will support key reforms in the areas of standards, net neutrality, transparency, broadband provision, and privacy. It also states that “Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer” (5), a position that would likely hold even greater power than Wu arrogates for his “broadband czar.” Obama also promises to deploy technology to facilitate universal health care, job creation, climate-friendly development. He even has a section devoted exclusively to immigration (8). Last, but not least, Obama comes out with a strikingly similar statement in favor of patent reform (9).
Taken together, these ideas pretty much cover items 1 (broadband), 4 (transparency), 5a (immigration) and 5b (patents) on Wu’s list. They also suggest that Obama won’t be shy about dealing with item 2 (the FCC) even if he doesn’t say so explicitly.
And yet, things get kind of murky on the international governance front. For example, the following paragraph on page 9 could have come straight from the mouth of Jack Valenti:
Protect American Intellectual Property Abroad: The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that in 2005, more than nine of every 10 DVDs sold in China were illegal copies. The U.S. Trade Representative said 80 percent of all counterfeit products seized at U.S. borders still come from China. Barack Obama will work to ensure intellectual property is protected in foreign markets, and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere.
Not to rain on Larry and Tim’s parade, but given the current climate of strict enforcement against whatever the MPAA decides is piracy, this is not a balanced statement. Obviously, it’s not useful to act as though Obama will hold these positions consistently if he wins office, but the language here sounds an awful lot like the current USTR’s industry-sponsored spiel on counterfeiting and piracy. Is this merely pre-election grandstanding? Lip service to the special interests of patent and trademark owner? Or a sign that we need to think harder about the rest of Obama’s positions? There’s that ambiguity.
A little earlier on the same page, the following paragraph appears:
Promote American Businesses Abroad: Trade can create wealth and drive innovation through competition. Barack Obama supports a trade policy that ensures our goods and services are treated fairly in foreign markets. At the same time, trade policy must stay consistent with our commitment to demand improved labor and environmental practices worldwide. In its first six years, the Bush Administration has filed only 16 cases to enforce its rights under WTO agreements. This compares to 68 cases filed during the first six years of the Clinton Administration. President Bush has failed to address the fact that China has engaged in ongoing currency manipulation that undercuts US exports; that China fails to enforce U.S. copyrights and trademarks and that some of our competitors create regulatory and tax barriers to the delivery and sale of technology goods
and services abroad. Barack Obama will fight for fair treatment of our companies abroad.
I’m especially excited by this one because it suggests that Obama intends to return global trade poliy to multilateral governance forums. This would represent a momentous and crucial shift away from the current administration’s practice of using bi-lateral and “plurilateral” pressure to silence critical trading partners. At the same time, I need to take my Bush-goggles off: there’s nothing benign about returning to the Clintonite days of using the WTO tribunal and the rhetoric of free trade as a cudgel to enforce American advantage abroad. Once again, ambiguity.
The bottom line from both of these cherry-picked excepts is easy to see. I have a hard time figuring out if Obama’s policy advisors (and Larry Lessig may well be one of them) are merely hedging in order to comfort anxious industry lobbyists or quietly signaling that they will only go so far in pushing the tech policy agenda in a progressive direction. In this regard, the campaign may merely be responding to the subtle effects of pressure and influence wielded by stakeholders such as the pharmaceutical industry.
To be fair, four out of the five items on Tim Wu’s list ain’t bad – indeed, it’s a far cry from Hillary’s proposals (link is to an old diary of Matt Stoller’s at Open Left) – but I can’t help wondering how these conversations will sound a few years hence.
This story in the Independent details what the real fallout from the sub-prime crisis will be for the majority of the United States: even deeper poverty. A few hundred dollars in tax rebates will not solve this problem and neither will the few remaining welfare programs. The United States needs a realistic poverty policy reform before the recession starts to look more like a depression.