Technology Innovation vs. Government
By Arnold Kling
Two op-eds today on the issue of technological innovation and government’s response. In the Wall Street Journal, former Intel Vice President Les Vadasz writes,
The problem with the “Induce bill” is not its intent, but its overly broad language: Any person or device that “aids, abets or induces” the sharing of copyrighted material would be subject to civil and criminal proceedings. This would include the manufacturers and end-users of such popular file-sharing devices as Apple’s iPod. A mock lawsuit is currently circulating on the Internet, showing how iPods could be deemed illegal under the bill, and how Apple could face fines of $150,000 for each one produced; Toshiba could even face fines for making the hard drives inside them. But it doesn’t stop there. There might even be fines for newspapers like The Wall Street Journal for publishing reviews of iPods. This is, of course, ridiculous, but certainly possible under the wording of Induce.
The chilling effect that a law like this would have on innovation cannot be underestimated…
What we need more are innovations like Apple’s iTunes Music Store that make the Internet a more friendly business environment for entertainment content. What we need is more risk-taking by the entertainment industry to utilize new technologies, to both deliver and protect their content. The more we attempt to provide government protection to the old ways of doing business, the less motivation we provide to the entertainment industry to adapt and benefit from new technology. ..
Most importantly, what we need are legislators who can curb their urge to legislate in areas where their actions are likely to do more harm than good.
On another issue, former National Security Agency technical director Michael Wertheimer writes,
This year alone, e-mail volume is expected to be the equivalent of 40 copies of the fully digitized holdings of the Library of Congress.
Another important medium, instant messaging, is now estimated to generate 530 billion messages per day. Complicating matters further, phone calls can now be sent directly over the Internet using a technology called Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP).
…Much like the code breakers shortly before Pearl Harbor, we risk not heeding the disruptive shift that is occurring with the growing dominance of the Internet. History — and best business practices — obligate us to encourage “disruptive innovators” to create new sources and methods for intelligence and let the natural evolution of innovation deliver reduced costs, greater capability and larger markets.
What is striking is that Wertheimer does not advocate what the FBI wants, which is to force VOIP providers to make conversations wiretappable. Wertheimer is saying to work with technology, not against it. In that regard, he seems to reinforce what I have written, namely that “I would have more confidence in a security agency that is working with the latest technology, not against it.”
For Discussion. What would be the social costs and benefits of Microsoft, Intel, or Google taking over one or more of the large music publishers?