Marvin Ammori was just named number 32 on Fast Company’s “100 most creative people in business” for his stewardship of the takedown of SOPA and PIPA. We caught up with him to talk about SOPA, First Amendment in tech, and what it means to be a creative leader in a digital world.
So, you're on Fast Company's Creative Business list...?
Yes. It's great that Fast Company decided to feature the creativity of the anti-SOPA movement and it was obviously an honor to be chosen as the person to represent that creativity. There were millions of activists involved and perhaps hundreds of leaders in business, academia, entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, music, and civil liberties.
The Internet itself is the world's greatest engine of creativity -- for speech, culture, and business. The anti-SOPA movement was organized much like the web itself, with loose networks and nodes through which lots of people could contribute their creative ideas, test them, and collaborate to make them a reality. Fast Company profiled me, but I was just one of many devoted people fighting the bills, so many of whom exhibited amazing creativity.
Tell us about what you did for the SOPA fight and why it was important.
To stop SOPA and PIPA from becoming law, you couldn't play the usual inside-the-Beltway DC game. You needed activists, organizers, lobbyists, lawyers, and a coalition of business, civil liberties groups, entrepreneurs, and just ordinary citizens who rely on the Internet.
I am a First Amendment lawyer. What I could do was interpret the statute as confidently as any of the opposing lawyers, and to analyze the First Amendment implications and problems. I also have experience working on public campaigns for Internet policy issues. So, while the other side would explain what the law did inaccurately, I could provide the right analysis, explain it clearly and simply to allies, congressional staff, and the general public. I was not the only lawyer fighting to stop SOPA, and we all learned a lot collaborating with one another.
Beyond the lawyers, other people were experts in cybersecurity (Paul Vixie), or handled the lobbying (Public Knowledge among others) and public activism (Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation) and organized Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (Engine). They could all rely on my legal analysis, just as I could rely on their skills.
What other tech issues have first amendment implications?
Almost all of them. The Internet is our infrastructure for speech in the 21st Century. We need to ensure all Americans have access to high-speed, open Internet connections, wired and mobile, and that individuals (not Hollywood or the telcos) control how people can use those connections. So network neutrality, bandwidth caps, Internet-for-all initiatives. All of these will determine who can speak to whom in our society, with what tools, and whether they need permission, and from whom.
What’s next for you?
I am thinking through a project on the connection between policies that foster entrepreneurship and those that foster freedom generally (like freedom of speech). And I'm supposed to be writing a book. I will probably call Hamish Chandra, an Engine Advocacy advisor who is my creativity guru, to coach me on becoming as creative as the 32nd most creative person in business should always be.