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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

It's Complicated: The Sun Valley Conference
July 10, 2012 - 9:29am

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously stated that "The rich are different from you and me."  Given the demographics of wealth distribution in this country, it is not a wonder that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have teamed up to create a manifesto based on that statement.  But since this is a blog about law, policy and technology, I offer a variation on that theme. The moguls are different from you and me. And keep eyes and ears peeled: they are getting together to talk money today in Sun Valley, Idaho.

The technology and content moguls  are among some of the most influential people on earth and have power to shape global culture unparalleled by even politicians.  Consumers were the beneficiaries of their struggles against each other, as the SOPA and PIPA drama earlier this year witnessed.  Their effort to find common ground may not bode well for you and me, however, that is if we don't use the authority designed to represent our interests … government.

Obama is the first president since the passage of the current 1976 copyright law to stray even but slightly against the powerful content industry.  It remains to be seen whether that courage was exercised in the name of consumers or strategically deployed to play to the new Turks.  Those giants, the Googles of the world, had good reasons to strike out against the established content industry in the Silicon Valley v. Southern California battle: not only did they want to be sure that the pipes remain open to their breadbasket, they were newly in a position to flex muscle in the face of legislation that was sloppy and over broad as much as it was and remains needed to manage gross illegal infringement.  Obama needs both their money and sway to stay in the 2012 game.

We need balanced legislation on many fronts: not merely getting innovation and incentive adjusted for copyright, but privacy and public domain on the Internet.  Carey Sherman has declared legislation dead as the path his trade association must take to retain control, and that scares me.  What is done behind the closed door of Sun Valley is not open to public comment.  Moreover, it may take awhile for the Department of Justice to get what anti-trust looks like in this new era.

Where the consumer will stand in this dance is our choice.  If we remain wallflowers, we lose.  Higher education can play an important role here.  As producers and consumers, more important, as educators, higher education leaders would do our colleges and universities well to take this issue seriously and get into the limelight.  Our presidents do it on a range of other issues, such as immigration; perchance they might embrace the urgent need to address intellectual property issues as well.  "Whoever controls the copyright, controls the Internet" is what I used to tell my students; I amend the statement to include the Internet moguls as well.  And given the self-interested, immutable aspects of human nature, it is safe to say, they are different from you and me.  But that is why I chose higher education as a career destination, not to hide from the world, but to help it understand better its choices in the marketplace and in the political realm.  Presidents, provosts and deans, stand up!


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