Digital Bill of Rights or Digital Bill of Bullshit?
Posted on September 1, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |
I understand that TechCrunch and other technology blogs like it are out of touch with mainstream reality. But a post last week really pushed the boundaries of absurdity.
On the heels of the Democratic National Convention, TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld decided the time was right to call for a “comprehensive national technology policy for the Internet Age.”
Why? Because “many laws and policies governing the Internet and digital property are inadequate attempts to transplant rules from a different era.”
This, of course, coming from a journalist, not a legal scholar. I think what Schonfeld meant to write is “many laws and policies governing things such as property rights are inadequate because they don’t allow consumers to download and share free music.”
Unfortunately, Schonfeld doesn’t see either party heralding the cause of digital socialists so he decided to serve as the 21st century’s James Madison along with Austin Hill, a serial entrepreneur and the 21st century’s George Mason.
Their Digital Bill of Rights calls for the following:
- The Right to Use and Reuse Content
- The Right To Control Digital Property On Your Own Device
- The Right To The Free Flow Of Information
- The Right To (Some) Privacy
- The Right to Control Your Digital Identity
My two word response to these: pure bullshit.
First, it’s worth pointing out that existing laws are quite adequate. Many of the issues that Schonfeld incorporates into his Digital Bill of Rights are reasonably covered by existing laws. This, of course, does not mean that those laws will not need to be interpreted by the courts in different ways given new technologies, but replacing them altogether is unnecessary.
Second, and most amusingly, apparently Schonfeld and Hill believe that lawmakers in the United States have no issues of greater importance than to ensure that citizens can transfer songs between different devices.
In case Schonfeld and Hill haven’t noticed, the United States is in the shitter. Some of its largest banks are clearly on the brink of insolvency (will Lehman be the first investment bank to go?). They and other corporations are being purchased on the cheap by countries like the UAE, Russia, China and Singapore. The worst of the credit crunch has not yet begun and in case anybody is still counting, Medicare and Social Security are more than $40 trillion in the hole. With inflation at a 17 year high, the rising cost of basic necessities like food has even American college students turning to food banks.
Apparently Schonfeld was too busy thinking about his iPod and missed the fact that Russia, which less than two decades ago was practically a failed state but is now flush with petrodollars, just called checkmate on the United States, leaving little doubt about the United States’ position in the world today.
More on this some other time but the implication is clear: citizens of the United States and their government leaders have more important things to worry about than “digital rights.”
In the small world of Silicon Valley, however, copywrongs and network neutrality apparently trump issues like the economy, healthcare and geopolitics.
While I certainly understand that TechCrunch is a technology-focused blog and thus is not going to cover topics of real importance, one can’t help but observe some pretentiousness in Schonfeld’s comments that “nobody in either party has pulled together a focused set of principles that can truly guide both lawmakers and policymakers” and “it is important to have a consistent policy governing everything from Internet Protocol regulations to intellectual property on the Web.”
He even stated that “Obama’s choice of tech-challenged Joe Biden as his running mate is not exactly a confidence builder.”
Let’s get real Erick: when Americans go to the polls in November, the technology platform of each of the candidates isn’t going to be a factor for the average individual trying to put food on his family.
And in case you’ve forgotten, Erick, your government is far better at than it is at giving them.
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5 Responses to “Digital Bill of Rights or Digital Bill of Bullshit?”
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If anything, it sounds like they want to take rights away from those actually creating new works.
Kevin is more right than he realises. All the rights on the bill are so-called “positive rights”.
Originally, a right meant something the state shouldn’t do to you - e.g. lock you up without trial, take your private property, have you shot in a subway station without repurcussion. To nullify them, the state came up with a new set of rights - ones that obligated the government to do something, rather than refrain from something. E.g. the right to certain job conditions, free healthcare, etc. The former are now known as negative rights and the latter as positive rights.
Second-rate political commentators talk of a “balancing act”, but it’s no such thing: positive rights always trump a negative right. The right to free healthcare trumps the right to private property. The right to paternity leave trumps your right to negotiate freely with your employer. And so on.
All of Schonfeld’s rights are positive, and therefore by design infringe on negative rights. Mostly they degrade the right to purchase whatever goods and services you want in exchange for the right not to read the small print on social network signup pages; but as Kevin points out he’s managed to go after property rights as well.
When did Silicon Valley come to this? Surely anyone in a culture that thrives on freedom and innovation would only agree on one “focused set of principles that can truly guide both lawmakers and policymakers” - it would consist of five words, “Get Out Of Our Way”. A good sign of how much trouble an industry is in, is how much time they spend begging favours from the state compared to how much time they spend trying to secure paying customers. By this measure, Silicon Valley is almost as screwed as the financial sector (very screwed indeed).
(Incidentally, won’t Lehman be the second investment bank to go under, after Bear Stearns?)
Sam: great comment.
My take on the United States today is that its citizens are having a great philosophical debate about the role of government in their lives.
A form of socialism has crept in to the American system and in my opinion, the United States is little more than a socialist welfare state in many respects.
This welfare state, of course, includes plenty of corporate welfare and it’s ironically ever-present in the “innovation hub” of Silicon Valley, as you point out.
VCs are having a bad year. The useless startups they’ve invested in can’t go public like they used to! What do do? Uncle Sam is on notice.
Cleantech companies aren’t financially viable on their own and can’t compete against traditional forms of energy (like oil and gas). Vote Obama and in return expect government subsidies for “green” energy and punitive windfall profit taxes for “bad” energy companies that are far too successful.
It’s all quite ridiculous and not becoming of a region known for developing innovative new products and innovative new business models.
PS: Bear Stearns was saved by the Fed (more corporate welfare). They weren’t about to see what happens when a bank holding $13.4 trillion in derivatives failed.
This is off the topic of the main post but I’ve been curious as to why governments subsidize industries in the way that they. In my mind, tax subsidies and other incentives only act to overcome structural problems that are in place. For innovation, that usually means uneducated workers.
It’s always been my impression that if you wanted to subsidize anything it should be education. After that, provide a favourable investment environment and let the natural talents of your citizenry run their course. As Sam put it,”Get Out Of Our Way”. Trying to create an industry sector that your population isn’t any good at is a waste.
To me, the cleantech energy subsidies are a perfect example of this. Why on earth are states like Oregon dumping money into the energy sector? What possible advantages does Portland have over Houston when it comes to energy?
As for VCs, I find the whole notion of investing in startups to be a waste of time and money. The SBA published a report in June finding that the average age of High growth, high impact firms to be 25 years. http://www.sba.gov/advo/research/rs328tot.pdf
Who would have thought it would take years of hard work to build something.
Kevin: in the United States, politicians are paid by special interest groups and lobbyists to provide subsidies. Just another wonderful service of the United Welfare States of America.
Everybody is dumping money into cleantech because it’s a huge money grab. From carbon credits to ethanol to fart sequestration, green is green in more ways than one.
Forget the fact that most cleantech startups won’t scale commercially and those that might be able to scale up probably can’t exist without subsidies - global warming alarmists and peak oil believers tell us that the world is going to come to an end if we don’t go green.
Which begs the question - why would investors pour $5 billion into an investment fund run by Al Gore when he says that we’re all fucked in 10 years?
And why should Americans look to be 100% powered by renewable energy within 10 years (an impossible taks by the way) when Al Gore told the world two years ago in an Inconvenient Truth that “We have just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin”? (Seems we actually had 12 years until the end of the world by my count).
I’ll tell you why and it’s the same reason VCs are investing in cleantech and seeking subsidies that benefit their portfolio companies - boats, private jets and gas and electricity for mansions aren’t cheap.