New Year's Message: Change, Innovation And Optimism, Despite Challenges
from the happy-new-year dept
Every year since 2008, my final post on New Year’s Eve has been on the topic of “optimism” about the future. It started when I had a few separate people note (in person to me) that they were amazed I seemed so happy and optimistic despite constantly writing about negative things that were happening — people trying to block innovation, politicians passing crazy laws, judges making bad rulings, etc. As I pointed out then, I actually found it rather easy to stay happy because I had seen how far we’ve come over the years since Techdirt began, way back in 1997. I had seen how much innovation had happened in spite of attempts to stop it. I had seen how people and innovators routed around the problems. While much of what I wrote about did cover negative things — and to some people I seemed angry about them — it was mainly frustration that there were further attempts to slow things down, despite knowing that innovation and the public’s interest always prevail in the end. I’m optimistic because I can see it coming, while frustrated because of all the efforts that will slow it down and limit how much of that innovation I’ll get to experience in my lifetime.
For the record, here are each of the posts since 2008:
- 2008: On Staying Happy
- 2009: Creativity, Innovation And Happiness
- 2010: From Pessimism To Optimism… And The Power Of Innovation
- 2011: From Optimism And Innovation… To The Power To Make A Difference
- 2012: Innovation, Optimism And Opportunity: All Coming Together To Make Real Change
- 2013: Optimism On The Cusp Of Big Changes
As I was preparing to write the post for this year, I actually thought it might end up on more of a down note. Something about this past year felt… somehow slightly more exhausting than years past (even as I, personally, completely revamped my sleep schedule and probably got more than double the amount of sleep this year than in past years). But as I started thinking through this year, I realized just how many amazing and wonderfully good things did come to pass.
Early in the year the FCC’s pretty weak net neutrality rules were struck down by the court (as most everyone expected), and at the end of the year it seems like the FCC is actually (amazingly) poised to put real net neutrality rules in place. Almost no one would have predicted that Title II reclassification would even be in the discussion these days, yet now it seems likely. That’s an astounding shift towards the positive.
At the beginning of the year, the story on patents was still a huge mess. Patent trolls were still running around like crazy causing problems, and the idea of true patent reform seemed remote. Yet, Congress actually came mighty close to a decent (if not perfect) patent reform bill (only to have it killed by the trial lawyers). However, it appears that much stronger patent reform is likely to happen in the next Congress. More importantly (so far), the Supreme Court continued to make rulings that smacked down an over-expansive patent system (and the dreadful rulings of the Federal Circuit). The Alice v. CLS Bank case in particular has already had a massive impact in getting bad patents and bad patent cases tossed out (and an earlier ruling making it easier to get lawyers’ fees for bad patent litigation has helped as well).
Surveillance reform turned out to be something of a bust in Congress, but it came very, very close, and there’s significant interest in making a real stand in 2015 on both the key surveillance parts of the PATRIOT Act that need to be renewed and on dealing with Executive Order 12333, under which a lot of mass surveillance is really happening. Still, while Congress dithers, innovators are innovating. The number of companies that have upped their encryption game and are taking privacy seriously has been going up rapidly. We may finally be reaching a point where protecting privacy is a real competitive advantage.
We’re still in a bit of a holding period on copyright reform, but the concerns and worries about what bad copyright laws have done to expression are getting increased attention and awareness. And, at the same time, alternative business models and services are thriving in incredible ways, making more culture available to more people — and allowing more content creators to create more content, to reach more people and to make more money than ever before. It’s an amazing time to be a creator.
That’s not to say there aren’t concerns. Congress is still working on some bad laws while ignoring broken laws that need to be fixed (such as CFAA and ECPA). The reaction of law enforcement to greater encryption is ridiculous but won’t be going away any time soon. The backroom dealing by the MPAA with state Attorneys General, and the USTR on bad trade deals, shows how those legacy industries aren’t giving up on their plans to hobble innovation to protect the interests of big legacy players (and to do so as secretly as possible).
But if you went back just a few years and told your older self what’s on the table today, what innovators are working on and what the public is interested in on these issues, your older self likely wouldn’t believe it. Real copyright and patent reform wasn’t even seen as a possibility. NSA surveillance wasn’t talked about in polite company. Net neutrality was a wonk issue for telco nerds. But they’re all getting talked about regularly today.
And an awful lot of that is due to the power of the public speaking out. The win over SOPA may feel like it was long ago but it set the framework for the net neutrality battle, and really did help make a big difference in that fight. While similar efforts won’t win every battle (NSA reform being one that so far has failed), that fight isn’t over yet, and the momentum continues to shift in the right direction. The power of the internet itself to connect people and make such expression possible is truly world-changing. Sometimes it’s difficult to see all that in the thick of things, but take a step back and think about just how amazing this time we live in really is.
Here at Techdirt, we were blown away by the support we received for our BeaconReader crowdfunding campaign for reporting on net neutrality. Your contributions helped raise nearly $70,000 which we’ve put to good use, producing over 100 stories so far and many more to come. We switched the site to default to HTTPS, to better protect your privacy (and we appreciate NameCheap stepping up to sponsor that move). Many of you have helped out as well, supporting us via the Techdirt Insider Shop (and getting some nifty swag in the process). And 2015 is shaping up to be a very big year for us. We have some major announcements about the future of our company that will come pretty early into the new year, so please stay tuned…
While other sites are pushing their communities away, turning off comments or outsourcing the effort, we still believe that it’s the community around here that makes this site so special — and we look forward to sharing an exciting 2015 (and beyond) with all of you.
It’s now been more than 17 years (yikes — I’m old) that I’ve been writing Techdirt, and I still think I have the best job in the world. It is an absolute, unquestionable joy each and every day to share these stories, to express opinions and debate interesting topics with all of you. It’s the community here that continues to inspire me every single day to see what more we can do. Thank you, once again, for being a part of this effort.