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IP-SKEPTIC: Silicon Valley Is More Interested In Disrupting Taxis Than Reforming Copyright Law

Submitted by kmeisthax on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 23:14 in Rants

I am a little dismayed that whatever fervor Silicon Valley had for copyright and patent reform has long since been replaced with ire towards other industries and entrenched monopolies. Fifteen years ago, or very close to that, we were seeing startups getting threatened by the music industry and taken down for infringing actions. The technology industry had a clear existential threat in the music and movie industries, and every corner of the industry hated it. We wanted things to be fixed. But that's gone now.

So what happened?

First off, part of the problem is that people grew up. The small scrappy startups that were fearing obliteration from a future-fearing, overly conservative content industry have now grown up, become entrenched monopolies of their own, and learned how to navigate the ridiculously irritating maze that is music licensing. The last time I heard that a start-up was having problems with music, it was Spotify trying to get licenses to expand into the US, which was eventually resolved quietly anyway.

The music industry may have played a part in this too. In the early 2000s, the industry carried a vibe of "I'll make my own, with blackjack and hookers". Instead of offering a paid service with comparable convenience, quality, and selection to existing unauthorized services, they instead gave us crap like PressPlay, where you had to be always online to listen to your music and couldn't burn more than two songs to a CD. The iTunes store was revolutionary at the time simply because of how many concessions Apple was able to get out of the music industry.

I mean, back then, you could authorize your music to be played, offline, on five whole computers, and as many iPods as you could buy. You could also burn anything you wanted to a CD, even then import it right back in for a fairly slow but entirely sanctioned way of stripping the DRM from iTunes songs. And yes, the collection had some very noticeable gaps in it, but the magic of economics was such that we even got The Beatles to finally agree to sell their music on yet-another-format.

But it also meant that the technology industry didn't need to actually disrupt the music industry at all, or reform copyright. At the end of the day, they just needed a solid-sounding business model and enough time to get the music industry to acquiesce. Google had to launch their music service without a store, because the music industry views Google Search as a piracy machine. But about a year later, and some very slight adjustments to search ranking factors, and suddently the music industry is perfectly happy to let Google sell music subscriptions.

So now that the music and movie industries have decided they'll actually touch the internet, any energy left towards fighting the inanity of modern copyright law is dead, dead, dead. After all, every major technology company sells a fairly large amount of proprietary software - even Google, which gives their proprietary software away sometimes, still uses it as a way to get hardware vendors to do what they want. The biggest copyright-related thing the technology industry wants to do now is put DRM in web browsers so we can be hacked by security holes that are illegal to research.

Instead, the biggest fight Silicon Valley has nowadays is crushing local taxi services. Granted, they deserve it, but it's not that hard of a battle. The only reason why they're still around is because they have third-rate political connections to local municipalities. It's not like there's some big federal ban incoming to prevent you from using your iPhone as a taximeter that automatically collects fares and destination information from a private taxi network. Everything involved is just making sure the right "tips" go to the right politicians. Even beyond that, there are enough municipalities that allow these services that this will never be an existential threat for them.

And yet at the same time it's caused a fairly big shift in attitude. The tech industry has always had the "white male dominated engineering field problem", but the political attitudes have shifted to the worse. When we were fighting the music industry, the hope was for the federal government to step in and reform the law so everyone gets a fair share. A largely liberal-leaning goal. But now that we've either grown up, or more cynically, became more entrenched and corrupt, we don't really want that anymore. The problems facing Uber or Lyft aren't pushing interest towards fairer regulations, it's pushing interest towards a distrust of any and all regulation.

We don't want to compete fairly anymore, we want our own special set of rules and carve-outs just for ourselves.

ip skeptic
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