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Again - It's Not Either/Or

March 20, 2013

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently posed a binary question – “Now is the moment for India to decide what kind of internet it wants for them: an open internet that benefits all or a highly regulated one that inhibits innovation.”

Is that really the limit of our choices? What about an “open” Internet that doesn’t permit gatekeepers to discriminate between legal services, but which keeps bad conduct in check the same way societies do off-line?

We’ve heard this “either/or” theme before and continue to be baffled by those who suggest the world is so simple. Blogger David Newhoff recently illustrated this point in his Illusion of More post on musician Amanda Palmer’s TED talk, writing:

Copyright doesn’t say Amanda Palmer can’t mange her career as she sees fit; it says that it is her absolute right to do so.  Combine that right with the First Amendment, and she’s a force to reckon with.  But so is the comparatively reclusive novelist who may best be capable of “connecting with fans” only through his writing. Copyright gives that author the freedom to stay home, indulge in one of the most solitary activities imaginable, and accept publishing deals, if that’s what best serves the work.  And nothing about that model prevents the Amanda Palmers of the world from doing things in a completely opposite manner.

In his op-ed, Google’s Schmidt reflects on what he considers an “open internet.” He writes “Where there is a free and open Web, where there is unbridled technological progress, where information can be disseminated and consumed freely, society flourishes.” (emphasis added) Is that in all information, regardless of whether it is legal or not? How would this vision advance his call for policies that would have the effect of “giving every Indian the best shot at using the internet to make his or her country even better”? Would permitting unfettered piracy help Indian society to realize cultural diversity by promoting investment in cultural production?

I was struck by the contrast between this statement and the words of a leading African policymaker at a regional workshop held in Dar es Salaam earlier this week who said "Today, more than ever, Africans whether living on Africa soil or in the Diaspora need to network to nurture our intellectual property. We need to share experiences, to evaluate and consider how we can promote our culture, our creative industries, our innovation and our investments and ensure that intellectual property becomes a tool for African economic emancipation.”

Intellectual property is a tool for emancipation. We understand that, and it's closer to home than our African friends might know.

Neil Turkewitz
EVP, International, RIAA