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Help Create An Innovation Agenda For The Next Administration

12 like 2 dislike

Darrell West of the Governance Studies program of the Brookings Institution is seeking to crowdsource ideas, feedback and insights into how the government can promote an innovation economy.  The results of this effort may go into an eventual report put out by West for new members of the next Administration.  Below this post, we've pre-loaded an initial list of 96 different possible agenda items, as prepared by West, for an innovation agenda, covering a variety of proposals touching on these topics:

  • the building of digital infrastructure
  • the promotion of entrepreneurship and economic development
  • improving productivity in the private and public sectors
  • improving education and workforce development
  • strengthening creativity and invention
  • improving university commercialization
  • improving decision making through data analytics
  • protecting digital assets
  • harmonizing cross-border laws to promote the digital economy
  • promoting socially responsible innovation

Now we need your help:

  1. Read through the list of items listed below this post
  2. Vote (up or down) on the items, based on the priority you believe they deserve
  3. Comment on individual items, with suggestions, thoughts, information, clarifications, etc.
  4. Respond to others' comments and discuss the various ideas being proposed
  5. Add your own items if you feel there are ideas that are lacking from the initial 96 items

Together, we can help shape a powerful agenda for innovation.

initiated Aug 13, 2012 in Economics by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
edited Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick

113 Responses

2 like 1 dislike
Abolish patents.
response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Linksvayer (1,430 points)   1 4 11
1 like 0 dislike


Use and support social media concepts and applications to improve quality of goverment services.
response added Aug 13, 2012 by kevin bingham (160 points)  
1 like 1 dislike


Create a public sector service reserve unit for volunteers to work a weekend per month on public purposes

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
3 like 3 dislike


Develop certificate program in vital skill areas

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
1 like 1 dislike


Build a legal framework to allow expedited approval of specific types of information sharing inside competing firms.

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
3 like 3 dislike
Criminalize the use of DRM technology, just like any other form of hacking, instead of giving it special legal protection.
response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mason Wheeler (560 points)   3
Would the downvoter(s) care to comment on what the problem is here?  This reform is needed more urgently than anything else on the list.
@masonwheeler There are many forms of DRM that do not involve remote access or control - and thus are not analogous to hacking. Certainly companies should be held liable if they are particularly egregious, such as with the sony rootkit fiasco, and in circumstances like that there are various laws that are potentially broken -- but to say "criminalize the use of DRM technology" is extreme and oversimplified.

I am no fan of DRM, but I also think that's a problem that will be largely solved by the market. I certainly think that anti-circumvention laws are wrong, and should be abolished or massively scaled back, so I agree with the point that DRM does not deserve special legal protection.

I'm curious as to why you think this is the *most important* item on the list... DRM is just one of many barriers to innovation.
@leigh It's the most important item because DRM can be used as a trump card to get around any other useful law or regulation. Let's say we take things way to the opposite extreme of the current system, and abolish copyright altogether.  (NOTE: I am not advocating this, just using it as an illustrative example.)

If we did that, then everyone now has the right to share everything however they wish.  But if DRM can still be used by content distributors, they will be able to curtail our new rights at will.  We need to take that trump card and burn it.

And what do you mean that there are many forms of DRM that do not involve remote control?  Remote control (which does not require remote access) is the one and only thing that DRM is about, theoretically at least, when it does not also contain other abuses. Remotely controlling what an end user is able and unable to do with their own property is the entire purpose of DRM technology.  That's exactly what it is, and thus it's a form of hacking.

In any other context, making a computer owner unable to do something that he is otherwise able to do, against his will and against his interest, is a crime.  And having the motivation be copyright infringement makes it even worse, because now we're getting into laws and the violation thereof.  When someone punishes someone for breaking the law, that's called vigilantism.  It's highly illegal, and for a good reason, and it's particularly bad when the vigilante and the victim of the alleged crime are the same person.

So why do we turn law and common sense inside out when it comes to DRM? Under what philosophical or moral framework is there any justification whatsoever for any of it?
@masonwheeler I'm sorry, once again you seem to be making very big leaps. As I said, I agree that repealing anti-circumvention laws would be a very good step - but the rest of what you say is too extreme, and you still seem to be using a narrow definition of DRM.

When you install software, and have to enter a serial number, that's a form of DRM. Is there much point to that system? No. Is it a crime analogous to hacking? Absolutely not - that's ludicrous. When someone releases a demo version of a program with a 30-day trial period, that's a form of DRM. Is that a crime analogous to hacking? Again, ludicrous.

If a DVD is copy-protected, that's DRM. Should breaking the protection, or building tools to break the protection, for non-infringing reasons such as format-shifting and backups be illegal? No - which is why, again, I agree that anti-circumvention laws are bad. But should releasing a DVD with such copy protection be a *crime*? Afraid I can't see the reasoning behind that one.
@leigh You're assuming everything works right.  If that was a safe assumption, I might agree with you.  But it's not.

When you go to install something that you bought legally, and the installer refuses to proceed until it has verified your serial number, and one of any number of things go wrong (verification server is offline or your Internet connection is down, serial was generated/printed/transmitted incorrectly, bug in the validation code, etc) the net effect is that you end up being punished for a crime that you did not commit, with no due process and no appeal.  You are not innocent until proven guilty; you're not even guilty until proven innocent.  You're simply "guilty because I said so, and screw any relevant facts."  And *that* is a crime analagous to hacking, plus other even worse crimes piled on top of it.

Copy protection on a DVD is just as bad.  Yes, of course it should be a crime.  It exists for no other purpose than to allow a private entity to act as a vigilante, and even worse, as an *automated* vigilante with zero human oversight.  Why should that not be a crime?  We have laws against vigilantism for a very good reason!

Enforcing the law is the job of law enforcement.  Punishing people for breaking the law is the job of the courts and the justice system.  Putting those powers in private hands, even to a seemingly small degree, is the first step down the path to a civilization that I *really* don't want to live in, and I doubt you do either.  That's what this is really about.

Getting rid of anti-circumvention laws is a good start, but it's not enough, since as long as the ability to use DRM is there, people will build worse things on it.  For example, do you know what a TPM chip is?  Did you know that they provide hardware-level DRM facilities to computers that create "black boxes" to actively interfere with analysis?  If those things ship, legalizing circumvention doesn't mean much.  (Oops! It's already happening. They've been out for several years now, and no one's talking about them.)

Did you know that a TPM chip, combined with certain facilities in the operating system, will allow "updates" to be pushed over the internet to computers that the user has no way of turning down or overriding?  (Just look at the case of the iPad app that allows kids with disabilities to speak, but got removed from the App Store because of a patent dispute. It's been covered on Techdirt a few times.)

Can you even imagine the potential for abuse in the hands of a malicious actor, with everything being computerized these days?  Some people worry about Iran getting a nuclear weapon.  I worry about them infiltrating one single engineer into the right division at Microsoft.
@masonwheeler Sorry, this is just getting silly. Yes, forms of DRM that provide backdoor access are bad, and should be scrutinized more closely - perhaps criminalized. But the rest of what you say is a *joke*

Please explain what you mean here:

"When you go to install something that you bought legally, and the installer refuses to proceed until it has verified your serial number, and one of any number of things go wrong (verification server is offline or your Internet connection is down, serial was generated/printed/transmitted incorrectly, bug in the validation code, etc) the net effect is that you end up being punished for a crime that you did not commit, with no due process and no appeal.  You are not innocent until proven guilty; you're not even guilty until proven innocent.  You're simply "guilty because I said so, and screw any relevant facts."  And *that* is a crime analagous to hacking, plus other even worse crimes piled on top of it."

Um... what? No you are not. Simply failing to install your software does not make you guilty of a crime. Who claimed it did? I am honestly not sure what you are talking about. Yes, if that verification process fails, you got screwed - and the company should certainly be held liable for selling you a faulty product. But Mason, nobody is going to follow your leap from there to the insane notion that all copy protection should be *criminal*

Copy protection on a DVD is *vigilanteism*? I think you need to tone down the rhetoric a bit. By that logic, the lock on my front door makes me a vigilante too. After all, it's law enforcement's job to enforce the law against breaking and entering, not mine, right?

DRM is, essentially, a design flaw caused by poor design decisions. It's a customer service failure. That's why the market will eventually weed it out (and is already doing so). But poor design and bad customer service is not a crime.
@leigh I didn't mean when I wrote that that "simply failing to install your software [makes] you guilty of a crime", and it's a bit odd to see someone interpreting it as if I did.  What I meant was that you are treated as if you were guilty of the crime, and the author's personal interpretation of the appropriate punishment for your your infraction is applied to you, with no due process, no appeal, and no human oversight to be seen anywhere.

Deciding that someone is guilty of copyright infringement needs to be the job of a judge, not an algorithm, and particularly not an algorithm under the control of the alleged victim.  You say it's silly to call that vigilantism, but how is it any different?

Putting a lock on your door is not in any way analogous, because your door is a part of your house.  The entire thing belongs to you.  But DRM isn't running in your [the creator's] house, it's running in *my* house.  A more proper analogy would be that I bought a new bed from you, then your delivery guy came in and installed a lock on my bedroom door and required me to use a key issued by you and ultimately under your control, not mine, any time I wanted to lay down.

That's evil and offensive, and a violation of basic property rights, (*real* property, not "intellectual" property,) and needs to be treated as such.  We need to redefine the fundamental relationship of customer to publisher: "Piracy is your problem. It is not my problem, and you have zero right to make it my problem unless and until you can prove in a court of law that I am part of the problem."  The first step to doing that is to take extralegal tools for privatizing the justice system out of the publishers' hands.
@masonwheeler I'm with Leigh on this.  Breaking DRM shouldn't be illegal, so get rid of anti-circumvention clause in the DMCA, yes, good idea.  I despise DRM, but it shouldn't be illegal.  I have been boycotting Sony since the rootkit fiasco, as well as Ubisoft, and actually do support the complete abolition of copyright, so coming from me this should mean something:  criminalizing the use of DRM as a whole is just silly.
@masonwheeler Mason, you still sound nuts. A company is free to put whatever protections they want on their product. That is NOT them acting as a judge or issuing a vigilante punishment. Blocking you from installing their software is not something that only a judge can do. It's well within their rights - if you don't like it, don't patronize that company.

All this stuff about "extralegal tools for privatizing the justice system" is ridiculous hyperbole on your part. Broken software is NOT equivalent to privatizing the justice system. Calm down and approach this a little more rationally, please.
@leigh You're talking as if it was their product and coding it their way affected nothing but their product.  This is a flawed premise.  It's not about their product, it's about the customer's computer.  And it's not just "preventing the product from installing."  That's only one of many things that DRM can do.  Since it's code executing with the full privileges of whatever program you're running, it can literally do anything the author wants.

In any other context, what DRM does to the customer's computer would be called hacking.  Can you explain how it's different? Because I don't see any difference at all, not as a user and not as a professional software developer.  I'm trying to approach this as rationally as I can.  Why should anyone be free to hack my computer and have such hacking protected by law, simply because I have their product on my computer?

And again, what is hyperbolic about taking code that executes an arbitrary action--determined at the sole discretion of a developer who believes they are being wronged--against the person who the code says is violating the law, and calling that algorithmic vigilantism?  How is that not what it is?

I am explaining my points and the rationale behind them, and all I'm hearing in response is flat contradictions.  It's starting to remind me of Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" sketch.  If you don't believe that my position is logically correct, please explain rationally what the difference is between the concepts that I am equating.
@masonwheeler I cannot explain rational problems with something that is completely irrational and based on incorrect facts, sorry.

Your description of DRM does not make any sense. DRM is not equivalent to running malicious code on someone's computer - in most cases it involves not running code, but refusing to run code if certain conditions aren't met. Is it poor design? Yes. Could it potentially violate consumer protection laws if legitimate customers are getting screwed out of what they bought? Yes. Should it be legal to bypass DRM for legal reasons? Yes. And that last one is the most important point, and the key necessary change.

This is they key you seem to be missing, and I'm surprised you fail to understand such a basic concept of freedom, so please read this carefully: developers are free to release software that works however they want, under whatever conditions they want. Customers are free to buy it or not buy it. The ONLY legal problem is anti-circumvention laws, which are currently restricting what should be a public right -- but a developer has just as much right to produce software how they choose, even if that means crappy DRM, and criminalizing that act would be just as wrong as criminalizing circumvention.

Some forms of DRM - such as sony's rootkit - could be analogous to hacking, but the vast majority are not. Simple serial key activation is not hacking. A trial period is not hacking. Encryption is not hacking. It's just a choice, by the developers, as to how their software will operate.
@leigh There's no such thing as "not running code" or "refusing to run code".  There is only "running a different code path instead."  That may sound like playing silly semantical tricks if you're not a programmer yourself, but it's a very important distinction.

Bringing "freedom" into the argument is a red herring, and I really wish you hadn't.  The trouble with that argument is that it can be used to make any point you want.  My side is about freedom too: the owner of a computer should be free to use his own property as he wishes without some external coder causing it to second-guess his decisions.  DRM takes that freedom away from you.

In any sort of stable, civilized society, there are necessary, rational limits on freedom.  The classic example is "your freedom to swing your fist ends where my face begins."  And DRM technology falls squarely into this category.  A publisher's right to "protect" their software using extralegal measures *ends where my personal property begins.*

It infringes on the property rights of the computer's owner by taking control of the system away from them.  Under what moral or ethical philosophy is that justified?  Name-calling and throwing the word "irrational" around does not make it not true.
@masonwheeler Actually, I am a programmer, and I do understand the distinction - and in this case I think it is still meaningless semantics. If the DRM is not altering anything on YOUR computer, then the choices it is making are entirely contained to the package of software itself, and that is not hacking, nor can it possibly be seen as a crime.

Your logic leads to utterly ridiculous places. By your logic, when a computer game forces you to beat one level before moving to the next, that would be a crime. After all, your computer is capable of accessing and playing any level at any time, so why is the developer unduly restricting what your computer can do based on their own set of conditions?

DRM only "takes control of the system" away from the owner if the owner is not allowed to bypass the DRM -- which is why anti-circumvention laws are the problem, NOT drm itself. I don't know why you are incapable of understanding this. A software creator is not under any obligation to make it EASY for you to install their software - they can make it a huge pain in the ass with annoying DRM and other limitations if they want, and you should be able to use your system however you want to try to bypass that as you see fit. But nothing about including DRM with software is criminal. There is no law about how software has to interact with your computer - people can build software however they choose. By your logic, software bugs would be criminal negligence.

Frankly, Mason, this is getting pointless. You are dead-set on the most extreme possible view - that any and all forms of DRM should be *criminalized* - and that makes you sound like a fanatic. No rational person is going to agree with the view that you could *call the police* and *report a crime* because you lost your Windows activation code. Unless you have a reasonable, non-laughable suggestion to make - perhaps something slightly more moderate, that doesn't resort to hyperbolic comparisons - we can keep discussing this. But in the mean time I'm not going to argue with an extremist.
@leigh From the way you keep coming back to installation and activation, you almost seem to be under the impression that that's the only thing DRM is used for.  Are you unaware, then, of DRM on music and movies, which are not software and don't get "installed"?  Or of programs that have to "activate" themselves every time you run them? (Or, in extreme cases such as Diablo III, continuously while you are running them, requiring a constant Internet connection even if you're not using any Internet-related features of the game at all?)

Are you unaware of the Amazon Kindle scandal, where Amazon reached into people's Kindles and deleted not only ebooks but also their own user-created content that was attached to the books, as part of a copyright dispute?

Are you unaware of Apple's iOS, where even after you have bought the device, you do not truly own it because Apple has veto power--even retroactively--over what software is and is not allowed to run on it?  (Again, I refer you to the patent dispute over "Speak for Yourself".)  Are you seriously arguing that any no rational person would agree that Apple should not have the right to arbitrarily reach into someone's iPad and delete software that they purchased and installed in good faith?

This is by no means something that is intrinsically an "extreme" position.  It certainly wasn't 15 years ago!  (Are you familiar with the concept of the Overton Window?)  If it sounds "extremist" to you, it's a sign of how far we've allowed the situation to come without ever looking seriously at the ramifications.

What my position *is* is absolutist.  A computer which someone buys is their property, and they should have the absolute right to exercise final control over what will run on it, so long as their use of the system does not actively harm anyone else.  And if their use of the system does actively harm someone else, they should absolutely be required to pursue remedies within the legal system.  That's what it's there for, and people are strongly discouraged from seeking extralegal remedies in disputes involving the breaking of other laws for a very good reason.  Why should copyright be different?  You still have not provided an answer to this fundamental question.
@masonwheeler You're right, "absolutist" is a better word. And absolutists don't often get very far.

Yes, I am aware that there are many forms of DRM - if you were paying closer attention to the conversation, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak, you'd have noticed that I said that multiple times. YOU are the one refusing to make the distinction. You keep saying that "all" DRM should be criminalized and that "all" DRM is analogous to hacking or vigilante justice. It is, frankly, hilarious that you are accusing ME of not recognizing the different kinds of DRM. As I have said multiple times in this conversation, many egregious forms of DRM - such as Sony's rootkit, or the kindle scandal you mention - may violate consumer protection laws, or may make the company liable for certain civil action, or may even in extreme cases violate more serious laws. If laws need to be tightened in some areas where abuse is too easy, that's a discussion worth having. But you're the one asserting that it is *vital* to criminalize *all* drm technology, and that's ludicrous on every level.

Time to start acknowledging grey areas, because absolutism is getting you nowhere.

You said:

"A computer which someone buys is their property, and they should have the absolute right to exercise final control over what will run on it"

I completely agree. Which is why anti-circumvention laws should be repealed. That's where the problem lies - not with DRM itself.

Sorry Mason, but you're just plain wrong on this one. Nobody is under any obligation to supply you with software, data or hardware that runs the way YOU want it to run. They can build it as they see fit, and it's up to you to decide if you want to buy it. You have not offered a single reason why that isn't or shouldn't be true.
@leigh There are also questions of literacy here. If we don't know what DRM is or how it works, we won't really care about it until it's potentially too late. What if my implanted hearing aid company decides to make a deal with Warner Bros to update my software in a way that changes how I hear in order to protect a copyright?

Of course, the whole other side of the DRM/ownership thing is the commons. We may have to get over the notion of owning content or technology altogether.
0 like 0 dislike
Support a full voucher system--available to any student, paying the per student amount currently spent by the public schools--for DC K-12 schooling, as a demonstration project.
response added Aug 13, 2012 by David Friedman (270 points)   1
Do we know that this system won't be misused such that low-populated areas have less vouchers and thus can't do the right amount of funding for great schools?

What about areas where, even if the vouchers are pooled, it will be hard to attract great teachers b/c of the environment, cost of living, remoteness, or other detracting factors?
3 like 4 dislike


Use existing government funds to focus on middle-mile fiber line development

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
Somewhat surprised at how negative a reaction this item has received.  There is a fairly large body of evidence at this point that having gov't invest in core infrastructure for middle-mile fiber can be tremendously helpful in expanding high speed broadband connections.  The key is then allowing competition *at the service level* above the infrastructure.

I think some people are just reacting negatively because they see government funding for something, without realizing all of the details.
@mmasnick Agreed. This is a good idea, and it deserves to be voted up rather than down.
@mmasnick I downvoted.  I think increasing infrastructure spending would be great, and increasing broadband middle mile is good.  But we've been down this road before, and all it has gotten us is most of the country controlled by mono- or duopoly providers of internet service, who charge exorbitant rates, and have successfully lobbied the competition out of many locales.  If we make this a publicly owned network (like Australia is doing), then I'd be all for it.
@joshremer I think the basics of this is more along the lines of what Australia is doing: investing in middle mile so that third parties can compete on top of it.
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Incentives for pooled private-sponsorship of innovation prizes. The resulting IP is then owned by the consortium with equal rights for member to use those patents.

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
3 like 6 dislike


Centralize authority for critical infrastructure protection and prioritize investments.

response added Aug 13, 2012 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
@mmasnick I'm up voting this one because I think it's time to nationalize the telecommunication and power infrastructures. Afterwards we can take-up huge public works projects (think interstate highway system) to make the energy infrastructure true inter-operable across state lines and increase broadband penetration in rural areas. Existing companies can then bid on maintenance and consumers will have some real competition for a change. If the electrical infrastructure truly works on a national-level, then I can purchase my energy from different companies across the nation.
As a dialup user, this one is very important for me. Broadband penetration is terrible throughout the US, with carriers not bothering to reach out to low density markets. And even in markets where they do bother to reach out, their monopolies keep speeds slow. Have the government take the lines to people, and then let competition sort out the prices.

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