US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has held a virtual town hall meeting and taken questions on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer and job prospects for US semiconductor engineers.
In a Google hangout, a feature of the search firm's Google+ social networking service, he answered questions about censorship on the internet and the controversial extradition of TV Shack creator Richard O'Dwyer. Obama has already weighed into the SOPA debate, at least the White House has, and noises from Pennsylvania Avenue suggested that if it is approved in the US Congress he might veto it.
Here he went further and tried to encourage Hollywood to be more flexible in its approach. It's quite a long video at 50-odd minutes, and Obama gets down to the SOPA question about 40 minutes in.
"One of the things that we are doing is use the laws that we have to enforce, er, make sure that intellectual property is protected. I think that it's going to be possible to make sure that we protect intellectual property, that creates a lot of jobs in this country, but do it in a way that's not affecting the fundamental integrity of the internet as an open transparent system," he said.
"I have suggested that both sides, the content sides and the servers' sides must come together, work with us to create a system in which we've got strong protection in place, but the basic architecture that's made the internet so powerful and such an open system is preserved."
Obama was also asked why he "personally supported" the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer. He responded, "I am not personally doing anything," and then fluffed a response with some soothing words about more work being needed on copyright laws.
"The president does not get involved with extradition decisions. This is a decision by the Justice Department. We want to make sure that intellectual property is protected, but we want to do it in a way that's consistent with internet freedom. When SOPA came up on the Hill we expressed some concerns about the way that that had been written. We'll try and figure something out that works for everybody."
Then perhaps, because this was all getting a bit heavy, he introduced a comedy element. We lost interest.
Obama seemed slightly rattled by questions about H1B visas for overseas workers and the difficulties that one interviewer said that her husband, an umemployed, qualified semiconductor engineer from America, has had in finding skilled work in his area.
"I can tell you that there is a huge demand around the country for engineers," said Obama, before asking what kind of engineer her husband is. "What industry tells me is that they don't have enough skilled engineers. He then joked that if the husband was in the high tech industry he would be glad to forward on his CV to the companies in that area.
But then he found out that the man, who worked for ten years as an engineer before being laid off three years ago, is a semiconductor engineer. Then the president looked slightly rattled.
"It is interesting to me, I would be interested in finding out exactly what is happening right there. That kind of engineer should be able to find something right away. The H1B should be reserved for companies that say that they cannot find someone in that particular field. I will follow up on this," he said. "We want to encourage more American engineers to be placed." µ