I came to DC in large part to explore the relationship between Silicon Valley and government and figure out how I could participate. What I’ve found over the course of my studies is a big disconnect between the two – a lack of understanding, a major cultural chasm, different realities and different world views. While Tech seems to ignore government as much as it can, the recent SOPA/PIPA confrontation brought these two domains to a face to face stare down, and Tech won in short order. One day of protest by such staples of modern life as Google, Wikepedia, Craigslist, and many more knocked Congress for a loop, backing away from legislation that had previously been pretty much assured passage.
With writing having been a big part of my career, I’m very sensitive to intellectual property rights. I am opposed to taking for-profit digital content for free. But in reality, we live in a radically different world where these practices are not only possible, they flourish – and it’s not just the Chinese or Russians doing it. Like the drug trade, illegal product is put where there is market demand – that includes the U.S. The demand must be stemmed – through education, through more realistic economic models (look what iTunes has done for 99 cents) as well as through technology. Young people in particular need to understand that illegally taking content costs jobs.
President Obama gave a nod to this issue in the SOTU address Tuesday night as he took on the issue of unfair trading practices. Policy approaches may be useful, but nothing hits home like real experience. When and if people in countries like China actually start to apply their own innovation and creativity, and then see their intellectual content stolen, they’ll get it.
But the internet cannot and should not be policed in the way SOPA was suggesting. Starting back with Napster [I know, dating myself], the world changed. Old laws no longer apply, and with technology moving so fast, there is no one who knows or even can know quite what to do about this problem. We are in uncharted territory. With one powerful jab last week, Internet content aggregators let it be known that they’re not going to take that responsibility- pushing Congress back to the ropes.