The Government And Silicon Valley: Lead, Follow Or Get Out Of The Way?
from the all-of-the-above? dept
A bunch of folks have sent in Mike Arrington’s recent blog post, angrily pointing out that the federal government keeps trying to meddle in Silicon Valley, and it would be better off just keeping as far away as possible from the Valley, because it’s only going to mess things up. We’ll get to the particulars of his post in a minute, but there was one key part of the story that a bunch of submitters highlighted in sending it in: a recent “off the record” meeting between Victoria Espinel and various Silicon Valley folks, which was supposed to be about “helping” Silicon Valley, and instead, turned into “how can the government get Silicon Valley to protect the entertainment industry”:
Earlier this year I was invited to a small closed door meeting with Victoria Espinel, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator appointed by Obama. In attendance were CEOs and other senior executives of a number of large and small Silicon Valley companies. The meeting was supposed to be about how her office can help Silicon Valley thrive. But it became very apparent very quickly that Espinel has a single agenda when it comes to copyright issues — helping the music labels and TV/Movie studios deal with the Internet on their own terms.
The meeting was strictly off record, which is why I didn’t write about it immediately after leaving the room. And the things that she said in that meeting will remain off the record as I promised. But I will say this — I walked out in utter frustration after an hour. And among the many things I said in that room was this:
The government can keep pissing in our flowerbed, but pretty soon all the flowers are going to be dead.
The problem with Espinel is that she has to follow the lobbying dollars, and those dollars come from the old entrenched players — TV and movie studios, and record labels. And as she said in the meeting to me (the one quote I’ll use), “My job title is Intellectual Property Enforcement after all.”
Of course, none of this is shocking or surprising. This was obvious since Espinel was first appointed to the job, and even as I and many others expressed our concerns about the “strategic plan” she’s working on, the nature of the questions she asked made it clear that her role is not to promote the progress, but to prop up the business models of certain industries.
That said, I also agree with Anil Dash’s response to Arrington, pointing out that Silicon Valley can’t ignore the federal government, because that will only make things worse. However, I don’t think the two of them are really disagreeing. Dash is right that folks in Silicon Valley do need to be involved and talk to folks in DC… but in part as a way to make sure that Arrington’s goal of keeping them from doing something stupid is at least a possibility.
Yes, there will always be lobbying from other interests in DC, and politicians will do stupid, innovation- and job-killing things to help protect the big dollars from other industries. That’s how it works. But ignoring that doesn’t help matters. Instead, it really is important to get involved, not for the sake of getting DC more involved in Silicon Valley, but to keep making it clear that they need to not mess with what works and, maybe even clear out a few of the aspects of the law that really are getting in the way. Yes, we should hope that the federal government stays out of Silicon Valley, but the best way to do that isn’t for Silicon Valley to stay out of DC.