P2P for America
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Ideas, Innovation, Power, and Competition
How does a society treat its ideas? Ideas can improve things. Ideas can empower with a win-win outcome. Ideas create power when people realize that they can rearrange their resources in a new way that makes them better off. We often see striking examples of power creation through innovation when high-tech entrepreneurs create an unanticipated new product or service.  Users of the new capability become more empowered, just as the entrepreneurs who are rewarded financially by their invention and industry. Computers, smart phones, and the Internet are excellent examples of technologies that have made the users of technology more productive and empowered. Interestingly, ideas do not take away power because they offer additional choices.  One can always make the choice to continue to do things the same old way.  However, those who benefit by the existing order of things—special interests when it comes to the Congress—may only selectively embrace new ideas for no other reason than innovation that empowers voters may not necessarily empower special interests.

History is replete with examples of big ideas leading to big advances—including in science, technology, religion, economics, and politics.  One particular big idea in history is especially notable, namely that of Liberty.  The United States has unique heritage in that it is the first country to be founded on an idea—specifically this idea of Liberty.  To paraphrase, one could say that freedom is the idea that you can have as much liberty as you want as long as you don’t trespass on the liberty of others.

Liberty is a very big idea that also happens to be naturally conducive to other ideas.  Freedom of expression is a powerful component of liberty because it enables other ideas, both big and small, to propagate throughout society.  In an environment of free expression and discourse, the best ideas tend to compete and find traction because people have had a chance to debate and decide individually what is best for themselves based on an idea’s merit.  In a democracy we can vote our opinions, both at the ballot box and with our wallets.

This website is about the “not-so-big” ideas.  These kinds of ideas are more related to the evolution of our day-to-day lives rather than the revolutionary moments related to founding a religion or a country.  These not-so-big ideas relate to education, national security, taxes, energy, the economy, the environment, health care, crime, corruption, and just about anything else people generally care about from time to time.  If lots of people like a particular “not-so-big” idea, is it always possible for them to act on it?  Is acting on any particular idea, big or small, always possible even in a country that so cherishes its freedom like the United States does?

The breadth and depth to which a society takes to heart the rejuvenating power of innovation may be an important indicator of its core commitment to equality of opportunity.  This website explores a subtle, yet revealing, relationship between copyrights and voting expression.  At first glance these unlikely bedfellows don’t seem to have much in common.  But in fact, they may tell us a lot about how America really values its ideas.

The Internet, Copyrights, Music, Video, and P2P File Sharing
The rise of the Internet as an extraordinary new medium has elevated the notion of copyrights to new prominence.  Now, any form of expression, such as music or video, can be instantly copied or moved from one person to another at the click of a mouse virtually for free.  Copyrights have emerged as a controversial means of controlling the expression of ideas.  The emergence of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file sharing and copyright piracy has illuminated fault lines surrounding how society treats its ideas.

One segment of society--the owners of copyrighted material, or “content”--claims ownership of music, video, images, text, and other types of expression.  These owners therefore claim control over who can access this expression and under what terms.  Another segment of society--users of copyrighted material--may or may not credit copyright owners with their claimed value.  Since the technology of the Internet makes copying easy, it is tempting for people to simply take content without paying.  Caught in the middle are the creators of music, video, and other expression who find themselves conflicted--both sympathetic and at odds with both owners and users of copyrighted material.  Since the debut of Napster more than 8 years ago, piracy over the Internet has shown no signs of going away.

See how the Internet is reshaping the relationships among content creators, owners, and users here.

Democracy and Voting
Today, people are displeased with the polarization in Congress.  In the past great triumphs in America have come when leaders have inspired people based on the merit of their ideas and have won their authority to implement them by popular vote.  Today, the Congress stands wholly underutilized in its charter as a deliberative body.  In the 1994 and 2006 popular discontent with Congress, simply voting one party out may no longer be enough to solve the problem—special interests still wield more influence over lawmaking than voters.  Polarization is creating extremes in politics not previously experienced in our lifetimes, yet it is recently just a handful of votes in key swing districts that decides who holds power in elections.  As a result, the institution of the Congress has become disconnected from the people it was created to serve.

Fewer citizens see fit to engage in the political process.  Voter apathy is especially prevalent among young, middle-class people in America—the very demographic which happens to be both the most Internet savvy and the one most practiced at file sharing.  A key irony is that these users of copyrighted information are generally not party to the creation of copyright law because they tend not to vote or, even if they do vote, cannot practically use their vote to articulate a position on the laws that govern their use of copyrighted content.

The plain reality is that voting for one party or another is an extraordinarily blunt instrument of political expression.  Fine tuning is needed that recognizes that America shines at its best when its ideas can compete on their merits in free and open debate.  America shouldn’t have to wait for a “crisis” to swing the pendulum of Congress.  Rather, the pendulum should track the prevailing balance at the center rather than flipping between polarizing extremes.  The real opportunity today is to put the Congress to work on the multitude of “not-so-big” ideas that matter in people’s day-to-day lives.  Practical tools for making Congress more effective as a deliberative body already exist.  One such practical tool that deserves to be better understood is Proportional Representation—American style.

This website explores how innovations related to voting could make the political process more competitive and engaging—fully harnessing America’s competitive strengths and ideas.