Why Can't We Be Friends?

Six months after the Internet Blackout, Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky is eager to resurrect debate over long-shelved legislation: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act. In his column here last Friday, Brodsky sought to turn Netroots supporters against Senator Whitehouse and Senator Cardin because, when interviewed, the two did not back down from their beliefs that American intellectual property is worth protecting. Ironic, given that the standard script followed by opponents of the now-dead bills during last winter's debate was to first acknowledge that piracy is a real problem and then to dismiss the bills in question as taking the wrong approach. Six months later, rather than joining a conversation about workable solutions, Brodsky's column suggests that the crowd at Public Knowledge prefers to fan the cold ashes of a dead fire. One wonders to what end?

While they are busy drawing up lists of "friends" and "enemies," others are trying to open a larger dialogue about what type of internet society we wish to see. Surprisingly, whether you ask Ari Emanuel or Darrell Issa, the answer is not so different. Both agree intellectual property is worth protecting online and off. Both agree it is part of a larger societal concern.

We all want the internet to mirror the kind of society we profess to be. One that allows us to gather and exchange thoughts online, one that supports democracy and does not threaten others with exploitation, whether they be the unwary misled by scams, children and women exploited for the pleasure of others, or artists and creators who we neglect to compensate for their work. Just as a vibrant, open and free society cannot exist without empathy for our fellow travelers and mutual respect for basic rights and privileges, so too a healthy internet society must accept basic rules of the road. Respect for intellectual property online is only one component of a much larger discussion we should be having about digital citizenship and what kind of internet ecosystem we want.

For my part, I am committed to working towards an internet ecosystem that is sustainable for both culture and technology. One feeds the other, and they both rise and fall together. While in this hyper-politicized environment it may be a good fundraising tactic to call out "friends" and "enemies" rather than to join together to find solutions, if we become entrenched in tech vs. culture camps we ultimately harm all of our causes. To adopt a sports analogy, we need to skate to where the puck is going rather than to where it has been.