I believe that we can’t ignore regulators because they will eventually pass laws that impact the scope and the way in which the technology we are developing is deployed. I also believe that many regulators do believe in trying to strike the right balance, and to engaging with the right people in the right context to help create technical standards and laws that actually work in the real world. Let me double-down on this. I think it’s important not just to not ignore them (and by “them” I mean not just regulators, but policy makers and the general public who elects them), I think it’s important to understand what motivates them, and help them understand what motivates us. Through that we can probably find larger regions of common interest, and thus design products and protocols and standards that have a greater chance at widespread adoption and impact.
That said, we have an unfair advantage as builders of technology, as the policy questions largely follow implementation rather than precede them. Installed-base plays a huge role in norms setting, even to the judicial courts where some of these issues inevitably will be decided. DeCSS, for instance, played a huge role in demonstrating the folly of DVD region locking and DRM at that time. But we could do more. For example, a tool that breaks e-book DRM to allow the visually disabled the ability to “read” an e-book through text-to-speech, a right guaranteed by the Chafee Amendment and the Treaty of Marrakesh, would bevaluable to that community. It would also be illegal under current anti-circumvention regulations. But if it existed, it would demonstrate the folly and societal burden of hard-locked DRM, more effectively than any hypothetical.
Running code beats hypothetical argument. This is Bitcoin’s superpower, Mozilla’s superpower, even Apple’s superpower. If there’s any prescription for this paper, it should be to developers to build the plumbing for the kind of future they want; they likely have much more power to influence policy than they realize.