The Associated Press is running a story headlined “Google Asks Government to Fight Censorship." The story highlights some (until now) fairly quiet discussions we’ve been having with various parts of the U.S. government, including the Departments of State and Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and various House and Senate committees.
We’ve been making the following case:
- The information industries –- broadly understood to mean Internet companies, book and periodical publishers, broadcasters, and the music and film industries –- together comprise a critical and growing component of the U.S. economy. They create jobs, spur economic growth, and bring to the world the best of American ideals about freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation.
- To industries that depend upon free flows of information to deliver their services across borders, censorship is a fundamental barrier to trade. For Google, it is fair to say that censorship constitutes the single greatest trade barrier we currently face.
- Some forms of censorship are entirely justifiable: the worldwide prohibitions on child pornography and copyright infringement, for example. Others, however, are overbroad and unwarranted. When a government blocks the entire YouTube service due to a handful of user-generated videos that violate local sensibilities –- despite our willingness to IP-block illegal videos from that country –- it affects us as a non-tariff trade barrier.
- Just as the U.S. government has, in decades past, utilized its trade negotiation powers to advance the interests of other U.S. industries, we would like to see the federal government take to heart the interests of the information industries and treat the elimination of unwarranted censorship as a central objective of our bilateral and multilateral trade agendas in the years to come.
The good news is that the uniform reaction to this argument in Washington has been the nodding of heads, typically coupled with a request to hear more about how this can practically be done. Clearly, it isn’t going to happen overnight. But my hope is that the U.S. government can begin to move – incrementally, agreement-by-agreement, over the coming decade and beyond – to include in our bilateral and, eventually, multilateral trade agreements the notion that trade in information services should presumptively be free, absent some good reason to the contrary.
We’ll have more to say about this as we refine our thinking and apply it to specific issues and situations. Feedback & ideas are, as always, welcome.