OK, enough with the funny stuff. The new Obama administration is shaping up to be a disaster for Copyfighters everywhere. In particular the new Department of Justice is stacked with lawyers who’ve been on the wrong side of copyright and intellectual property lawsuits for the last eight years.
First off, there’s the #3 man at Justice, Thomas Perrelli, accurately described by CNET as “beloved by the RIAA”. Not only has this guy been on the wrong side in the courtroom, he’s fingered as instrumental in convincing the Copyright Board to strangle Web radio in its crib by imposing impossible fee structures.
Then there’s Neil MacBride, who used to be the Business Software Alliance’s general counsel. The BSA, to its credit, hasn’t been suing teenagers. Generally their name is associated with large-scale raids on companies that are mass-producing illegal copies of software. Still, it’s an industry flak group.
Then there’s the #2 man, currently slated to be David Ogden. If that name only rings a faint bell it’s because you have to cast your mind back to Eldred v Ashcroft, the argument on whether retroactive copyright term extensions were legal. Sitting over there on Ashcroft’s side? That’s Mr. Odgen. For extra-bonus ick points, Ogden also was involved in defending the heinous COPA legislation, fortunately now dead and buried (but not forgotten).
The capper on this line-up of suspicious characters is Donald Verrilli, now up for Associate Deputy Attorney General. This specimen of legal acumen is front and center in the Cartel’s jihad, having appeared for Viacom when it sued YouTube, for the RIAA against Jammie Thomas, single mother. And if we peer back a little farther, we find Verrilli’s dirty fingerprints on MGM v Grokster.
So what does all this portend? Well, if you ask Julian Sanchez over at Portfolio.com he thinks it’s a tempest in a teapot. He thinks they’ll all behave and recuse themselves properly and just because a lawyer consistently goes to bat for a certain kind of client doesn’t mean much about their professional views. Lawyers are paid guns, after all, and the Cartel’s side has consistently paid well.
Declan McCullagh, over at CNET, is much less sanguine, pointing out that many of these cases are still ongoing (e.g. big lawsuits against YouTube) and further noting that Vice President Biden showed a great deal of hostility toward free use when he was in the Senate.
I’m on Declan’s side. To the extent that someone has to set the tone of this administration in dealing with intellectual property matters, it’s looking pretty grim.