Controversy is already brewing over the practice of seizing the domain names of alleged infringement sites, as well as the negotiation of intellectual property provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Government simply has to be more sensitive to legitimate concerns such developments raise, or it will risk fostering growing public disrespect for copyright.
It is also high time for the copyright policy conversation to focus not just on ways to address the significant problems facing rights holders, but on measures to make the system work better for Internet users and innovators as well.
Next year, Washington has the opportunity to start fresh on copyright and see if there is a productive conversation to be had. Not placing my bets, just putting in a plea for a new dialogue.
The FCC's Open Internet rules, adopted at the end of 2010, require Internet service providers (ISPs) to continue to let users access the websites and online services of their choice -- without interference or discrimination by the ISP.
While the rules essentially affirm and protect the Internet's existing and hugely successful structure, they have nonetheless been sucked into the partisan vortex and the shrill rhetorical debate about regulation in general. They also face a determined challenge in court, where Verizon argues that the rules exceed the FCC's statutory authority and even violate Verizon's constitutional rights.
At a high level, nearly everyone agrees in theory that the Internet should remain an open platform where startup businesses thrive and innovation without permission is the norm. But the court case, whenever it is decided, will likely focus renewed attention on the controversial question of how to translate that principle into policy.
A court victory for Verizon could leave Internet neutrality proponents scrambling to prevent the worse case scenario, one in which the online experience of Internet users is entirely subject to the whim of major ISPs. A win for the FCC could put the spotlight on how the rules should be interpreted and applied, but also could generate renewed calls for the rules to be repealed. Indeed, the GOP platform takes broad aim at the FCC, calling the agency a relic of the 1930s with an expertise better suited to regulating railroads than high-tech digital networks.
This is an issue on which it has been hard to get past partisanship and sharp rhetoric. But I find it hard to believe that any one wants to see Internet openness compromised.
Global Internet Governance
A near term issue that is only going to grow in prominence is who should govern the global Internet and how. That issue will move to the fore at a December meeting in Dubai, convened by the International Telecommunications Union -- a United Nations agency -- that will decide whether and how the ITU should regulate the Internet, a move that could pose grave risks to future growth and innovation on the Internet and exercise of human rights online.
The Internet has thrived specifically because it has been governed in a lightweight and decentralized manner. No one country or one global body governs the Internet. Instead, a diverse set of institutions open to all stakeholders has built the Internet from the bottom up.