Fighting the last big thing’s battle

by scotslawstudent

I know that a lot of people are not as interested in computers and computer law as I am, however this following post does not require a lot of background knowledge and I’m happy to announce that the only background information you need is that Google was started in January 1996 and it is currently the Year of Our Lord 2011.

A common complaint of security commentators is that the authorities are “fighting the last battle”, reacting to threats which have already happened, and this is why you can’t wear shoes and underwear on planes anymore. If you think about it it’s quite hard to do it any other way but just because you had chickenpox last year doesn’t mean you need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars preparing for it this year.

David Cameron recently made a speech that complained that our repressive IP regime would have prevented Google from starting up in the UK. Which is fine because we do have slightly anachronistic rules about making not-for-distribution copies due to the bundle of exclusive rights — the long standing issue on format-shifting being the most publicised one, the difficulty about copying software into RAM so you can run it is probably another.

So far the main criticism of the speech I’ve read is that it’s interesting that a Prime Minister who wants to relax IP law to make it easier for Google has the spouse of Google EU’s Head of Communications on his staff but that appearance of impropriety is his business. My concern is that this is absolutely fighting not just the last battle but battles the UK lost over 15 years ago. We didn’t invent Google and it doesn’t matter how easy and nice we make our legal system for search engines now, Google has already been invented somewhere else. It’s not useful to talk about reforming the law to make it possible to start Google in the UK in 2011 because we need something different.

I was once discussing internet innovation over lunch with some friends and we were talking about “the next big thing” and one of us pointed out the financial benefit of inventing the next big thing and the conversation paused for a minute as we realised that there was a business case to giving this a bit of thought. We never came up with anything. It’s not easy to come up with something new and big and David Cameron has his work cut out for him if he’s going to legislatively pre-empt it.

IP law in Britain does need some changes, for starters I’d like to be able to convert music on CDs to mp3 without doing something wrong, but the way to go about it is not to work out what would let us create US tech companies from the mid-90s. That boat has sailed a while ago and we should be talking about what is coming in the future.

H/T: The Guardian