Technology

Two tech issues the Trump administration should prioritize

Greg Nash

Many tech policy questions remain as we prepare to greet our new President. It’s impossible to know what the tech priorities will be before they are announced, but there are some key issues relevant to innovation that will undoubtedly be at the forefront of their minds, given the president’s focus on job growth: the future of work and of property rights online.

Flexible Workers

{mosads}One of the more important developments in recent years is an innovation not of technology, per se, but of business model. The “sharing economy” is about so much more than sharing: it’s about realizing the potential of individual workers and capital resources in a way that empowers individuals and reduces economic waste.

 

Enter platform-based firms. Uber is not a taxi company, and Airbnb is not a hotel service. These types of firms provide platforms that enable individuals to use their free time, expertise, car, home, or other in-demand resource to make a living on terms set between themselves and their clients. It’s hard to overstate just how important this could be for the future of a flexible workforce.

But for many of these firms a number of regulatory burdens remain that were built on 19th and 20th century notions. Most prominent is that of worker classification: if you work a series of gig economy jobs are you a 1099 worker, a W2, or a something else?

The glaring reality for those of us who are not labor lawyers is that it sort of doesn’t matter what your classification is. What matters is that workers have the flexibility to choose when and how they work, while also retaining the ability to access the public benefits that society has deemed desirable.

Providing the things society deems important does not require imposing onerous labor regulations on firms and workers. What it requires is developing one or more portable benefits packages that firms and workers can opt into, and that workers can take with them wherever they happen to work. There have been some fits and starts around these issues (and there are also some historical antecedents for this idea), but what they require now is leadership and vision. If we do this right we can unleash the productivity capacity of millions of workers.

Protect the Drivers of the Innovation Economy

Of perhaps even greater import is the contribution of intellectual property rights to the creation of jobs. Trump sang a consistent refrain that was crucial to his election: Americans don’t have sufficient access to good jobs and are therefore excluded from achieving the American dream.

But many of the envisioned jobs this rhetoric evokes — stable, well paying factory positions — simply do not exist anymore in a form that anyone would recognize, largely thanks to automation and globalization. And this is not a trend that is going to reverse.

But the U.S. does in fact export more today than it ever has in the past, and the work that exists often involves creativity and technology. What has become essential for supporting a healthy economy and jobs today is increasingly based on IP rights.  In fact IP-related industries contribute about 38.2% of GDP.

But protection of IP rights, particularly online, is uneven— especially for copyright heavy industries. Many of the problems related to copyright infringement revolve in one way or another around online platforms that host digital content. Both the content creators and platforms, however, face a common problem: diminished revenues because of insufficient respect for the property rights that support the entire system.

Though not strictly a matter for the executive, setting sound IP policy needs a champion, and an administration capable of seeing the value that IP industries contribute to the economy is crucial. Beyond things like rate setting, or agency picks that might have a direct impact on IP, there are a number of legal reforms that are essential — chief among which is rethinking parts of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Coming up on its twentieth birthday, the law is a bit worse for wear. In particular, the notice and takedown system — the part of the law that allows rights holders to request that Internet intermediaries remove infringing content — has not worked as originally planned. In just the last month, for instance, Google alone handled over 66 million take down requests.

One fix for this problem would be to implement a provision that requires known infringing content to not be permitted to reappear on a service — a so-called “stay down” provision. While not a sure-fire fix, it’s a necessary step toward making protection of property rights a priority.

Moving the needle forward on this reform and others will require leadership from our new president. Given his focus on connecting more Americans with meaningful work, I hope he is paying attention.

Kristian Stout is the associate director for innovation policy at the International Center for Law and Economics, a non-profit global think tank.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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