One topic discussed at a panel on “Importance of Innovation to the Future of the Nation” at the Library of Congress on Wednesday, April 27, was intellectual property concerns. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates explained that the same technology that enables using the internet to send information – legal file sharing – also enables the stealing of music and video content – illegal file sharing.

While legislators would love to have a technological solution that could identify and separate the two uses, he explained, that doesn’t exist. The answer will have to come through strong laws against stealing. The challenge here, Gates described, is to protect the artists and musicians who should be paid for their creations and who should be able to compete fairly for sales of their creations, without stifling innovation. Too draconian a reaction to file sharing could cut off the benefits of it and might be a disincentive to future technology innovation.