Is Technology Good or Bad?

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gary By Gary Shapiro, President & CEO, Consumer Electronics Association

I just returned from testifying on Capitol Hill on legislation that would ease the legal ambiguity for products that can be used to record copyrighted content.

Seated between the legendary Motion Picture Association of America's Jack Valenti and the brilliant Stanford University professor Lawrence Lessig, I was struck by how technology is viewed as evil by so many in the content world. They insist on the need to restrict technology so they can capture payment for every use of their content. Like Chicken Little they claim the sky is falling and technology must be controlled.

Through a day of hearings before several members of Congress, I insisted that technology is not bad, but uses of it can be.

Had our technologies been regulated or restricted to meet copyright owner concerns, our industry would be poorer, consumers would have fewer choices and the history of the world would be dramatically different.

I said that even though speed kills, Congress chose not to restrict the speed of automobiles–so why should our products be restricted to choke technology, frustrate consumers and enrich copyright owners? I mentioned that even a fork can be used to hurt people, but forks are legal. (In fact, any product can have bad uses, but that doesn't mean it should be restricted or illegal.)

Sometimes, of course, society must regulate products (like certain weapons). But why should CE products be regulated to serve the economic interests of copyright owners when cars–and guns and even baseball bats–can be dangerous but are legal.

Don't Limit Innovation

Our products serve important individual needs, but they also change societies and governments.

Think of the role that recording and duplicating technology has played in major events. The Watergate tapes brought down President Nixon. The fax machine and the VCR helped crumble the Soviet bloc. The Internet is democratizing China despite government efforts to restrict it. And our own recent horror of digital camera images of abused Iraqi prisoners has changed the nature of the war and the perception of our nation abroad.

In all cases our products changed history. Had the technologies been regulated or restricted to meet copyright owner concerns, our industry would be poorer, consumers would have fewer choices and the history of the world would be dramatically different.

With all respect to the legendary Mr. Valenti, the freedom to make and build technology is as important as any other freedom in a free society. I am committed to making sure our industry fights for these rights and preserves the technology tools for democracy in the digital age.

This material has been adapted from VISION — a bi-monthly magazine of the Consumer Electronics Asssociation


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