Welcome to summer and the latest edition of R Street Tech, a monthly-ish update on all things technology and innovation policy from your friends at the R Street Institute. There’s a different feeling in the air as we head into a summer of social distancing, but nonetheless, our tech policy team has continued to be a hotspot (see what we did there) of information and analysis on the most pressing tech policy issues. Here’s what we’ve been up to since last month.

WHAT’S LATIN FOR EEEEEYOOOOO — Charles Duan published an article in the NYU Journal of Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law that provides historical perspectives on copyright in texts relating to the law (right next to an article by rapper Pitbull). Examining historical texts from Rome and China to England and America, he draws lessons that should inform the current policy debate over public access to state legal texts, lessons that “militate toward broad exclusion from copyright of state-authored informative legal texts, whether binding or not.”

BECAUSE BLEACH CAN’T DISINFECT THE INTERNET — In The Fulcrum, Tony Mills teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University’s Kathleen Carley to write about how distinguishing truthful and false online information is more important than ever in the age of a global pandemic. Based on the science of how coronavirus misinformation spreads online, they identify tools for citizens and policymakers to combat the spread of misinformation. Since no one is immune to confirmation bias or human error, they argue that everyone needs to “cultivate the skills needed to discern genuine information from its counterfeit.”

RUNNING DOWN THE SHOT CLOCK FOR BROADBAND — In a piece for the R Street Blog, Jeffrey Westling discusses an upcoming FCC action to clarify the process for state and local approval of wireless equipment modifications. Because local governments can introduce bureaucracy and lengthy delays to the deployment of wireless connectivity, Jeff applauds the FCC for using shot clocks and other measures to limit regulatory barriers. Still, he says, there remains much more work to be done to promote the deployment of critical broadband infrastructure—see our Broadband Scorecard, which provides state-by-state breakdowns of broadband deployment and identifies policy solutions.

I SENSE A DISTURBANCE IN THE TWITTERVERSE — It’s pretty hard to miss the May 4 Star Wars memes all over Twitter every year. But this year, one tweet stood out and caused widespread outrage, when Disney seemingly tried to claim ownership over the #maythe4th unofficial holiday. In a piece for SlateCharles Duan dissects the real motivation and legal basis for Disney’s overlawyering. He argues that the controversy illustrates just how far back Disney, and the law of copyright that the company was built on, are stuck in the pre-Internet past.

KEEPING THE MEMES FLOWING — Tom Struble and Jeffrey Westling submitted a letter for the Senate Commerce Committee’s recent hearing on “The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The letter reiterates the importance of high-speed broadband connectivity during this time and explains how both the FCC and American broadband providers have risen to the challenge. Tom and Jeff call on Congress to focus on keeping existing networks online and assisting consumers with their broadband bills in the short term, passing legislation like the STREAMLINE Act that would unleash private capital and reduce regulatory barriers to infrastructure deployment, and working with the FCC and broadband providers to identify any areas where market forces and private capital are not enough.

VACCINES AND VENTILATORS AND FACE MASKS, OH MY — On May 6, R Street hosted a webinar event on the innovation of health products that will help the public during COVID-19 and future pandemics. Moderated by Charles Duan, the panel featured Michael Weinberg, executive director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at NYU; Alicia Gibb, executive director of the Open Source Hardware Association; Matt Lane, executive director of the Coalition Against Patent Abuse; and Ana Santos Rutschman, professor at the St. Louis University School of Law. If you missed it, you can catch a summary and video here.

 EARNING OUR ATTENTION — This month we also hosted an event to discuss all the things happening with the EARN IT Act and its broader implications for encryption and cybersecurity. The virtual event featured a conversation between our Jim Baker and the Honorable Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security. A full recap is available on our website. 


As usual, we’d love to hear from you, so if you have an interesting news tidbit or idea, or just want to learn more about our work, head on over to the R Street website, drop us an email, or send a shout-out on TwitterFacebook or LinkedIn.

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