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
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
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
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.