Why doesn’t Washington understand the Internet?

Part Three of the book is titled “Democracy’s Challenges.” At the end of Chapter 7, dealing with copyright enforcement and free speech, I conclude:

It is a moral imperative for democracies to find new and innovative ways to protect copyright in the Internet age without stifling the ability of citizens around the world to exercise their right to freedom of speech, access information they need to make intelligent voting decisions, and use the Internet and mobile technologies to organize for political change. Balanced, citizen-centric solutions will require innovation, creativity, and compromise. Sadly, the elected leaders of the world’s oldest democracies are disappointing the people who could most use their help by demonstrating very little enlightened leadership and a great deal of short-term self-interest.

This weekend, the Washington Post is running a piece by me about the clash between Washington culture and Internet culture in the wake of last week’s battle in Washington over copyright law. It begins:

In late 2010, on the eve of the Arab Spring uprisings, a Tunisian blogger asked Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah what democratic nations should do to help cyber­activists in the Middle East. Abdel Fattah, who had spent time in jail under Hosni Mubarak’s regime, argued that if Western democracies wanted to support the region’s Internet activists, they should put their own houses in order. He called on the world’s democracies to “fight the troubling trends emerging in your own backyards” that “give our own regimes great excuses for their own actions.”

The ominous developments that Abdel Fattah warned about are on display in Washington today in the battle over two anti-piracy bills. This fight is just the latest example of how difficult it is for even an established democracy to protect both intellectual property and intellectual freedom on the Internet — all while keeping people safe, too. It is a challenge that Congress has historically failed to meet.

I conclude:

The computer coding pros — and the millions who depend on their products — have said “no” to legal code they hate. But killing a bad bill is only the first step. The next and more vital step is political innovation. Without a major upgrade, this political system will keep on producing legal code that is Internet-incompatible.

Click here to read the whole thing.

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  1. [...] In late 2010, on the eve of the Arab Spring uprisings, a Tunisian blogger asked Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah what democratic nations should do to help cyber­activists in the Middle East. Abdel Fattah, who had spent time in jail under Hosni Mubarak’s regime, argued that if Western democracies wanted to support the region’s Internet activists, they should put their own houses in order. He called on the world’s democracies to “fight the troubling trends emerging in your own backyards” that “give our own regimes great excuses for their own actions.” The ominous developments that Abdel Fattah warned about are on display in Washington today in the battle over two anti-piracy bills . This fight is just the latest example of how difficult it is for even an established democracy to protect both intellectual property and intellectual freedom on the Internet — all while keeping people safe, too. Consent of the Networked [...]

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