Time to patch up the Hollywood-Silicon Valley spat
Internet piracy costs the American economy as much as $135 billion every year. Fighting it unifies the fiercest of rivals, aligning labor unions with corporate CEOs as well as Democrats with Republicans. In spite of these surprising alliances, Hollywood and Silicon Valley continue to wage California business war.
This North vs. South battle is gripping California - the eighth largest economy in the world. The entertainment industry's anti-piracy efforts are confronting the tech industry's protection of privacy. It's an ideological debate that prohibits job growth and gives China another competition free market. Amidst the unprecedented internal strife, egos are running unchecked. In a surreal moment in Congress, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) derailed a marathon Congressional hearing on Thursday because of a tweet calling her boring.
Eventually, the wild voices will die down, the smoke will clear and it'll be time to reestablish the marriage of tech and entertainment that has brought society Facebook, iPods, Netflix, FarmVille and so much more. Hollywood and Silicon Valley must move beyond their differences and find ways to work together.
Here is a four-point "post-war" plan to protect American innovation through the reconstruction of the Hollywood/Silicon Valley relationship:
1) Hollywood must get back in line: Like the American Civil War, a polarizing figure is at the heart of the rift between North and South. Whereas Abraham Lincoln recognized the inherent need for a united house, MPAA chairman Chris Dodd has no such noble intent or practical understanding. The intransigent former senator - no stranger to putting self-interest above the cause from his days pandering to the banking industry - has done everything possible to widen the rift between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. He's made a huge mistake systematically shutting the tech industry out of the conversation and trying to unilaterally push through new regulation. The 21st century merging of content and delivery platforms creates a natural partnership in this fight, but Dodd stands in the way. It's time the MPAA gives Dodd a one-way ticket back to Washington.
2) Beef up international borders: The Patent and Trademark Office created the Intellectual Property Rights attach? program to assign personnel to foreign embassies with a singular mission of addressing IP concerns in global hotspots. But the program has no teeth and a single attach? is not enough in a place like Beijing. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) also have attorneys working in foreign posts with an emphasis on IP, but again, one or two voices don't do much. The Internet may not abide by borders on a map, but there's no use in a domestic policy that isn't backed by strong efforts where the pirates live.
3) A coherent policy from the White House: The President's "copyright czar" Victoria Espinel is ineffective and secretive. According to a Wired report on a recently announced copyright violation crackdown system, Espinel prefers backroom dealing to open discussion. While the content providers had a cozy relationship with White House officials, leading digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge was only "sort of consulted at the end." This shady behavior is just the latest by an administration lauded for transparency but unable to back up its rhetoric. Not only did Espinel help craft a plan without input from critical stakeholders, but the government isn't a signatory, so it isn't official policy. This dubious achievement is about the only thing Espinel's accomplished in two years on the job.
4) Collaborate with companies making the pirates' weapons: It may seem antithetical to copyright holders to actively and openly collaborate with the companies that create IP circumvention tools used by pirates. But it's similar to the approach taken with the banking industry to keep an eye on the flow of money internationally. Like Hollywood content, monetary transactions went digital a long time ago. The government's ability to freeze financial assets keeps checks and balances on a system that could otherwise be overrun by hostile and abusive foreign entities - a tack recently taken to preserve $30 billion of Kaddafi's assets for the Libyan people.
Circumvention technologies that allow users to disguise their location or download copyright content are essential for human rights advocates and freedom fighters in oppressed countries. Organizing the Egyptian protests that would spur the Arab Spring would not have been possible without these technologies. And although these smart innovations can be used for unjust purposes, so do most technologies. Banning or working against them is short-sighted because technology has a way of breaking down artificial barriers to the market. By working together with the companies that create these technologies, the government can gain valuable insight to use in enforcement while allowing a new and vibrant business sector to grow. It also has the ancillary effect of spurring the creation of jobs, the all-important buzzword in the U.S. right now. The government and computer software companies have long employed the services of "white hat" hackers to use their knowledge to strengthen their defenses and it's time they did so with these types of companies.
The bipartisan alternative bill recently floated by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is a smart solution that places the enforcement issues with the International Trade Commission. The Issa proposal (called The OPEN Act) works with businesses to reward inventors while Dodd's simply seeks to close down portions of another industry. The OPEN Act also precludes granting courts sweeping access to shutting down web sites - a major point of contention by free speech advocates in previous bills. Unlike Dodd, Issa is an entrepreneur - he understands how government can help businesses not just dictate demands.
The fight to protect American innovation isn't between industries or regions. It's with the pirates who illegally profit from the hard work of others. California's innovators and the millions of people relying on the entertainment and technology industries for jobs are not partisan. Issa and Wyden are leading the way in Congress, but it's not enough. Hollywood and Silicon Valley must unite and take the next step: pushing the President into shifting his policies and resources to where they can make a difference.
Bio Brad Chase co-manages Capitol Media Partners, a Los-Angeles based communications and public affairs consultancy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of theauthor.