A month ago, I gave a little preview of the news that we, the team behind Techdirt, were launching a new think tank and network of innovators called the Copia Institute. That launch is happening today, with our event in San Jose, and I wanted to just provide a short post on why we’re doing this, and why it’s so important.
The word “copia” is Latin for abundance — and over nearly two decades of following, researching and writing about the innovation industries, over and over again, we see that it’s the story of abundance. Of an abundance of information, certainly, but also of the role that abundance plays in everything that we do. Businesses, business models and government policies that were all built for a world of scarcity run into trouble when suddenly plopped into a world of abundance. And we see it happening every day. There are the obvious ones that we talk about all the time around here: music, movies, news and software. But it goes way beyond that. A switch from a world of scarcity to one of abundance is going to impact nearly every other industry as well: manufacturing, finance, healthcare, energy and education among others.
The discussions that we’ve had in the past about the changes that hit music, movies, news and other industries were really only the beginning. The world is changing in very profound ways, and if you view it all through the lens of scarcity, it looks very, very distorted. The arguments over new business models and copyright laws were just a warmup to what is going to impact basically every industry and every society in the next few decades.
Understanding abundance matters. You cannot understand the world we are moving towards if you continue to view it solely on the basis of scarcity.
And thus, we’re building Copia — to bring together people who think about these issues, and who actually want to get together and do something about them, hopefully preventing crazy messes and lawsuits that we’ve seen in other arenas. Some of this may certainly involve working on policy issues, but there are lots of groups that are already doing that. Our focus, as an organization in the heart of Silicon Valley, will be on what innovators do best: innovating — but doing so with an awareness of the policy realities. And that means looking for creative solutions that don’t always rely on convincing policymakers to make this decision or not make that decision. We expect to be involved and engaged in those debates, but we’re really interested in coming up with other, more innovative solutions as well.
For example, nearly 15 years ago, as people were realizing that copyright law was just not built right to function in an internet era where people wanted to share stuff, a group of very smart individuals came up with Creative Commons. These days, as we sit around waiting for Congress to finally tackle patent reform, we see companies doing creative things like coming up with an Innovator’s Patent Agreement to avoid patents becoming tools of trolls. Tech companies came together to create a Defensive Patent License, and you even have companies like Life360 offering free legal support to any startup sued by the same troll that sued it.
These are creative solutions that involve innovation. They don’t solve everything, and those working on them still — quite reasonably — support policy changes as well. But we need more discussions about creative solutions that don’t involve just sitting around and waiting for policymakers to do their thing. We need to bring together the people who understand how the world is shifting, from one where everything was scarce to one where many things are abundant — and to look for ways to harness that abundance to create more good in the world, rather than to lock it down under rules of artificial scarcity just to make it conform to the way things used to be. That’s why, at our inaugural summit, we’re discussing a diverse range of things from health data & ethics to privacy to 3D printing to the blockchain to copyright, patents and freedom of expression.
That is what Copia is about. It’s about looking at the world through these eyes of abundance. It’s not about ignoring the policy world, but working closely with it — to better understand the impact of the decisions those in government make, and to help guide them along more reasonable paths that embrace and (even better) enable more abundance.
Research into why Silicon Valley became Silicon Valley suggests that it is the free exchange of ideas and information — brought about through a historical quirk of California state policy that outlawed non-compete agreements — that resulted in all of this innovation. That sharing of information (an abundant resource) has created so much innovation already. Copia is about continuing that trend, bringing together people to share ideas and come up with creative and innovative solutions to a variety of challenges — technology, business model and policy — to see what we can do to help the world transition into greater abundance and less scarcity.
As we make this journey, we expect you, our loyal community at Techdirt, to come along and be a part of the process. We’ll be using the discussions on Techdirt as part of this effort, to drum up interesting and unique ideas, new research, new tools and new inspiration. It will be an adventure into the world of abundance.
We’d also like to thank the sponsors that made this launch possible, starting with the MacArthur Foundation, which provided a grant that is enabling us to start this work. We’re also thankful for sponsorship from four of the best, most well-respected venture capital organizations in the world today: Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Foundry Group and Spark Capital. Finally, four technology companies have sponsored Copia as well: Google, Automattic (WordPress), Yelp and Namecheap. We should have additional sponsors to announce soon as well. We’re especially excited about the mix of sponsors from different areas. What we’re putting together is not a trade group, or an advocacy organization, but rather a group of people focused on innovating and bringing more good into the world through creative means.
* In case you don’t get the title reference, click here.