Monday May 3rd I was honored to again have a piece published in the Wall Street Journal. The topic of this one was the “Right to Repair” movement, and why forcing manufacturers to supply details about their technologies, whether covered by patent, copyright, or trade secret, would be harmful to innovation.
While the piece appeared in the May 3rd edition, I knew it had gone live Sunday evening around 8pm because I suddenly started getting vitriolic Twitter traffic in response to it. And it’s still going on strong 24 hours later. I have had many hundreds of tweets trashing me and the piece, questioning my motives, my intelligence, my knowledge of the issue, my research skills, my honesty, my integrity, my Christianity (yes), etc.
Reactors to the piece on social media fall into one of three categories:
- Friends in the IP policy world who praised and shared the piece,
- Hordes of Twitter keyboard warriors with single-digit followers bashing the piece and insulting me personally BUT focusing on extraneous issues, and
- One guy, Louis Rossmann, who is apparently the guru of Right to Repair. He has a YouTube following of 1.5 million subscribers, and apparently his meaning in life is Right to Repair.
Within an hour of my piece going live, Mr. Rossman had recorded a YouTube video trashing the piece, trashing me, trashing the arguments, and etc. Have a look.
Look, I’m not new at this. Part of the fun of being in the arena of ideas and making arguments is the response you get. But it’s IMPOSSIBLE to respond to a 24 hour flood of Twitter criticism, and inefficient and counterproductive to try to do so. So this blog post comprises my responses.
Writers know this, but most people probably don’t: Authors don’t get to choose the titles and descriptions of their pieces. That right is reserved to the publication, and they have the right to title it and market it in whatever way they think will get the most traffic.
If you read the article, my op/ed focused on the importance of intellectual property and the offense against intellectual property (and thus incentive to innovation) by forcing disclosure of patented and proprietary information. The most recent iteration of this campaign is with medical devices, but it’s already worked its way through consumer devices like cellphones, automobiles, and agricultural equipment.
A TERTIARY argument I made in my piece was the health and safety angle, but the Journal chose to focus on that angle, so the Journal titled the piece “Right to Repair Is Bad for Your Health” and described it as “Do you want a PET scan from a machine with unauthorized adjustments?”
Now, were it up to me, that’s not the direction I would have gone with the title and description, but that’s their prerogative. But because the Journal chose to title it that way, 98% of those objecting to the piece have focused on the health and safety argument, have tried to cite FDA regulations, have sent me copies of FDA documents, etc.
So 98% of the objections and criticisms were directed at a MINOR argument that I made, rather than the major argument (IP). The secondary argument, by the way, was cybersecurity.
So look: If you’re going to unload on an author for something, maybe take on their main argument, rather than focusing on a minor argument?
And of course the old “Who paid you, you rotten corporate shill?” argument.
Folks, that’s not how it works at IPI and at most principled policy organizations. We are not for sale. We have a set of principles we adhere to and an issue set on which we have expertise. If people like our work, they might hopefully choose to support us. But we NEVER take a position based on funding. Never. I’ve turned down funding more times than I can count because someone was asking us to get involved on an issue we didn’t care about or take a side that we didn’t believe in.
1) Money is dangled in front of our eyes
2) We take on a new client and do whatever they want us to do.
1) We’ve identified an issue we think is important
2) Our principles lead us to a particular conclusion
3) We do policy work on that issue based on our principles
4) We HOPE people choose to support our organization based on our work.
5) If we get enough support, we’re able to do MORE work on that issue.
That really is how it is. If you are going to take issue with something we’ve written, or said, deal with the arguments made, not the source of support. I have news for you: EVERYONE in policy and politics is being supported by people who like what they do.
A great deal of the criticism was simply name-calling by people with single-digit Twitter followers. Might I suggest that might be the reason why you have only single-digit Twitter followers?
Lots of folks had fun questioning and attacking my research skills, my knowledge of the issue, my IQ, etc. What they don’t know is that we at IPI have been working on intellectual property issues for 20 years, and specifically on Right to Repair for at least a decade. I’ve sat across the table with Right to Repair lobbyists (yes, they also employ lobbyists!) and listened to their arguments more times than I can recall.
It's not that I don’t know what I’m talking about, or don’t know the issue. It’s that we disagree. Simple as that. And the likelihood, frankly, is that I know more about the issue and have spent more time researching it than YOU have.
Some folks railed about how I was a lousy journalist. Folks, I'm not a journalist. It was an opinion piece, not a reported piece. It also wasn't a blog post (THIS is). You know it's an opinion piece because of where it is placed in the Journal. Also, for those complaining that I didn't cite sources, you don't footnote op/eds.
Also, a lot of criticism was along the lines of somehow I didn’t think anyone had the right to repair anything other than the manufacturer, which is not an argument I made. I take my car to Firestone, I take my various phones and tablets to CPR Phone Repair, etc. I’M NOT AGAINST THE REPAIR INDUSTRY and I wrote nothing of the sort. My piece is focused exclusively on the idea that manufacturers have the right to guard their intellectual property, and if that makes it more difficult for third-party repair services, that’s just a price I think we have to pay. We unapologetically take a very high view of intellectual property protection here at IPI; that’s one of our principles, and so that’s where we end up on the Right to Repair issue.
Yes, I get that some of you work on your own cars! I simply used the increased complexity of today’s automobiles as an introduction to the idea that everything is getting more complex. I wasn’t insulting all you grease monkeys out there.
Finally, Mr. Rossmann. Dude, congratulations on your 1.5 million followers. Seriously. Congratulations. That’s an accomplishment you are obviously proud of. But look: If your meaning in life comes from your campaign for Right to Repair, then I don’t expect you to like my op/ed. It’s not much more complicated than that. On this issue we’re adversaries, but probably not on every issue. That’s just how it is.
When we engage in the arena of ideas, we’re hoping to persuade the persuadable and provide arguments to people who already agree with us. We don’t expect to change the minds of people who are passionately on the other side of the issue.
Okay, so that's my attempt to address the various criticism of the piece. Of course, I don't expect many of those complaining to care enough about the actual issue to interact about my responses. Nonetheless.