In the Spotlight: Gary Shapiro

On the eve of International CES, Shapiro spoke with Dealerscope about his new book, International CES, and the industry as a whole

Dealerscope: What is the ‘next big thing’ in CE?

Shapiro: Ultra HD is one thing. It’s going to be big and expensive at first, but people want big TV sets, and that’s very, very exciting.
In the long term, I’m excited about the driverless car; it has huge implications for society. I’m excited about 3D printing. I think that will be a really big deal and change a lot of things. I’m also excited about robotics. There are still so many new products to be invented.
Between the Internet and wireless, I am concerned about available spectrum and whether we have the infrastructure to deal with all that. I’m also concerned about the health of the U.S. economy, and about the health of retail. But I’m also concerned that government doesn’t try to do good things and inadvertently do bad things that would hurt innovation.

Dealerscope: When you joined CEA (then known as EIA/CEG) full time in 1982 as general counsel, you had already worked on the Betamax case, which established that consumer use of VCRs for time-shifting was not copyright infringement but fair use. Around that time, the CD was just being introduced and Apple was gearing up its first l launch. When you look back on your beginnings in the industry, did you have a sense then about the profound impact these products and technologies could make in everyday consumers’ lives?

Gary Shapiro: My turning point was attending the first CES, the Summer Chicago show in June of ’82. I was an outside lawyer then, and I fell in love with the concept of the CES and the excitement, how companies market themselves, and the technologies.
At the same time, I also felt the VCR was the best thing in the world, and how could it become illegal? I was passionate about that. I remember I bought a bunch of CDs at the show, and then bought a CD player. The VCR was a liberating product. It was the first new technology to allow you to have a theater in your home and watch what you wanted when you wanted to watch it, without the expense of a babysitter. It was a product that conveyed personal freedom. And that was still not too far from the gas lines [of the ’70s], so I argued that it would save gas and was energy-efficient.
While there were those who talked about time-shifting being the important aspect, I passionately believed that it was the movie aspect which made the difference. When legislation was first introduced, which put a royalty on every VCR and videocassette and we opposed it, buried in there was a provision that also banned video rentals. That was horrible. I went around the country and organized these fledgling video stores into an association. I said video rentals were more important than time shifting, that these video rental stores were going to be our grass roots. I was 100 percent certain I was right, held my ground, and it turned out that video rentals were much more important, and did create this business, and the grass roots did help us.
It took a few years for the Supreme Court to actually rule; my goal was [for the video industry] to survive long enough so the product sold, so the prices would come down, so average politicians and court justices would understand what they were, and fall in love with them. The Court heard the case in 1984 and it was argued twice. There was a 4-4 split, and it could have gone either way.
We did argue at the time that it’s very dangerous to cut off a whole new area of technology when you don’t know what the possibilities are, and certainly, we also argued the same point about music recording. It all happened very quickly together.
Early on, with the Internet, we were very involved with that, and I remember testifying in Congress. There was a proposal to make it so that anything you did on the Internet, where you passed along anything copyrighted, including someone else’s email to you, was an illegal act. Boy, did we argue against that and fortunately we prevailed. The Internet was viewed by the content community as the world’s largest piracy device, and they were very negative on it.
Then, our whole focus became how do we get broadband deployed so people can enjoy more into their homes. Even today, there’s a lot more things to go, and some are similar themes like privacy or copyright or intellectual property protection, or creating new categories, or environmental issues.
But in terms of where we’re going, and the possibilities? The only area where I’m certain we’re going, and we have to just get there, is driverless cars. In terms of other things? The possibilities are endless, still.
I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be part of the most exciting industry and the industry that’s made the difference in the most lives in the world. The automobile made a difference, of course, but there are more people with smartphones than automobiles and more people with access to the Internet, and more people with televisions, by far, in the world, or that fly in planes. You almost have to look to the health and biotechnology world to say that something has had more influence on lives.

Editor in chief of Dealerscope
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