Oxman said that the Napster story has become a “cautionary tale” about the price of fighting innovation. While the original Napster is long gone, its fundamental concepts of online file-sharing and content downloads via MP3 are key to today’s music industry, while the once-dominant physical media-based distribution model is now a tiny fraction of the industry. Today’s payment industry doesn’t want to risk becoming tomorrow’s Tower Records.
Instead, Oxman said, the industry is considering bitcoin’s innovations on their own merits: “At bottom, our industry is in the business of facilitating electronic transactions, and those electronic transactions are going to take the form of whatever the customer or merchant of choice agrees is going to be the form of their electronic transaction.”
One part of the ETA’s approach is educating lawmakers about the potential benefits of digital currency in an effort to prevent them from stifling innovations. The more unfamiliar regulators are with new payment systems, the more skeptical they tend to be about them. “In the world of new payments technologies, any regulators are going to ask questions about the level of consumer protection available through alternative payment systems,” Oxman explained. “The less those systems are established and deployed, the more regulators are going to feel compelled to step in and protect consumers where those protections are not otherwise available.”
The ETA represents some 500 payment companies in various capacities, but at the moment it only has one bitcoin-specific member in BitPay. As the cryptocurrency’s innovations are slowly incorporated by traditional payment systems, and as bitcoin service providers move more into the mainstream, the ETA may soon find itself becoming one of the primary advocates for well-reasoned digital currency policy.