I recently had an interesting discussion with a politician who really, really understands the various issues that we regularly discuss around here. I brought up the question of whether or not some of this was a "generational" issue, and he (being of a somewhat older generation) said he didn't think that was necessarily the case, and indicated it was, perhaps, more about the amount of knowledge that people had about these issues. He pointed out that there are plenty of people who start out as copyright maximalists (or even supporters of the current status quo), but who, as they learn more, move in the other direction. Yet, it's extremely difficult to name anyone who goes in the other direction. Thus, over time, more and more people will move in the direction of understanding these issues, rather than fighting against progress and innovation.
That said, while it is not an entirely generational issue, it should be acknowledged that the younger generation -- those who are "digital natives" -- seem to grasp these things much more clearly and much more quickly. In part, it's because this is entirely natural to them. They don't just understand the technology, but they live the technology and can't imagine a world in which it is limited. If anything, they want to go even further.
Fred Wilson recently put up a great blog post discussing how he was taking his daughter and some of her friends back to college, and overheard them talking about SOPA
(an issue that Fred was heavily involved in fighting, but he was not the one who brought it up). I heard very similar stories from others, including a lawyer who was extremely active in fighting SOPA who explained how his college student son -- who had previously shown absolutely no interest in his father's work on copyright law issues -- was suddenly posting up a storm on Facebook about the bills.
In the past, many of the debates around copyright and internet freedom were really the realm of policy wonks. They could (and would) make lots of noise. And that noise perhaps kept the worst of the worst ideas from moving forward, but did not stop the constant expansionism of the copyright maximalist lobby. Where SOPA/PIPA changed things was that it really was the public -- the people who aren't policy wonks -- who realized that something really bad
was happening. And they spoke up. Of course, when the general public joins in on discussions like this, sometimes they get some of the tangential facts confused -- and the copyright maximalists have seized on those slight mistakes or exaggerations to insist that the whole opposition was based on "lies" (amusing to hear considering their consistent parade of flat-out lies in favor of constant copyright expansion). However, what they're failing to understand is that for people who truly understand
the power of the internet, this isn't about a particular bill or a particular policy. It's about something that is a very part of their identity
As Fred noted:
Their generation grew up with a computer on their lap and now in their pocket. They were on Facebook before they were supposed to be. Their first phone was a smartphone. They prefer to watch a movie on their laptop lying on their bed than in the movie theater. And as a young woman said at Princeton last week, they want "life, liberty, and blazing broadband".
That mantra isn't about "piracy" or wanting things for free. It's about a recognition of just how powerful and important the internet and internet freedom is as a fundamental principle of their identity
. While some may not think this is a good thing, the internet has become indelibly intertwined with our lives in a way that is impossible to unwind. Thus any attempt to push back against that core mantra is not seen as a "policy fight" or an issue of "Silicon Valley vs. Hollywood."
It's an attack on their very identity.
For those who still look upon internet policy making as a mere technology debate, or a mere intellectual property policy issue (or even as a specific business or industry interest), they will forever miss the point and come at the debate from the wrong perspective. When you're talking about a core principle of your very identity, you don't compromise. You pursue "life, liberty and blazing broadband," and you don't let anything get in your way.