Shifting the discussion to principles
Posted on January 14, 2012 at 17:12 PM EST
The good news about the White House’s response to an anti-SOPA petition is that it raised the discussion to the level of principles, arguing against “disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet.” That is where it needs to be. The bad news, as Tim O’Reilly eloquently explores, is that the White House makes a gross [...]
The good news about the White House’s response to an anti-SOPA petition is that it raised the discussion to the level of principles, arguing against “disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet.” That is where it needs to be.
The bad news, as Tim O’Reilly eloquently explores, is that the White House makes a gross and unsubstantiated assumption:
As I wrote in What Would Google Do, novelist Paulo Coelho found that piracy spread his name and reputation and found him new readers in new lands …. so he pirated himself and sold more books. The man has sold more than 100 million.
This part of the discussion — the justification for SOPA and PIPA in whatever form — needs to be based on principles and on facts.
The question of fact is difficult to answer as it is an attempt to prove a negative: How do we know how many copies of a work pirates would have bought if they hadn’t pirated? How do we know how many more people discovered and bought a work because it was pirated? How do we differentiate between shrinking industry sales caused by piracy or by a new abundance of competition?
The matter of principles is this: Where will the White House and government put their priorities: in protecting the interests of a shrinking industry or in protecting the interests of innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic expansion? Will they favor protecting the interests of a closed industry or the freedom of speech?
That is why we must raise this discussion to the level of principles. That is why I wrote Public Parts, to help spark a discussion of principles. These, once more, are the principles of publicness and an open society I propose in the book:
I. We have the right to connect.
II. We have the right to speak.
III. We have the right to assemble and to act.
IV. Privacy is an ethic of knowing.
V. Publicness is an ethic of sharing.
VI. Our institutions’ information should be public by default, secret by necessity.
VII. What is public is a public good.
VIII. All bits are created equal.
IX. The internet must stay open and distributed.
Most relevant to the discussion of SOPA are the last two. If anyone restricts any bit — whether that is China restricting searches or India restricting what it says is offensive content or the U.S. restricting what someone calls piracy — then no bits can be assured to be free. If the architecture of the net is altered to enable the U.S. government to block alleged pirates, then any government can use that power to block anything.
My response to the White House’s response is to ask what is more important: protectionism for a fading industry or the future of speech?
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