Harsh Words for White House IP Czar

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which represents many of the largest technology companies, has posted a scathing retort to the White House:

The White House’s IP czar Victoria Espinel is calling on Congress to further expand and toughen U.S. intellectual property law, which is already among the most sweeping and strictest in the world.

[…]

The legitimate desire to address some serious counterfeiting abuses – such as medications or industrial components used in defense products – has been hijacked to create draconian proposals to alleviate the content industry of the burden of protecting its own interest using its own extensive resources. The government’s role in protecting the public’s right to safe medicine and component parts should not be allowed to morph into supplanting the responsibility of private companies to use existing legal remedies to remove possibly infringing content online and bring legal action against those involved.

“The government has shown how its zeal leads to carelessness in its unprecedented efforts to widely seize domain names for IP enforcement, which ICE undertook this year. Sites were wrongfully shut down based on allegations the user was engaged in criminal conduct deemed lawful by their courts. We are concerned the same low threshold will be used in making decisions to spy on U.S. citizens.

“Some in Congress and the White House have apparently decided that no price is too high to pay to kowtow to Big Content’s every desire, including curtailing civil liberties by expanding wiretapping of electronic communications. Even the controversial USA PATRIOT Act exists because of extraordinary national security circumstances involving an attack on our country. Does Hollywood deserve its own PATRIOT Act?

[…]

“This is the latest indication of the extent to which the content industry has infiltrated this administration and managed to turn the Administration’s IP agenda into a policy which protects old business models at the expense of consumers, citizens’ rights and our most innovative job creating industries.”

Wham. Blam. Zowie.

Espinel’s post was created by the Prioritizing Resources and Organization of Intellectual Property (Pro-IP) Act of 2008 signed into law by President Bush.

The legislation was vigorously opposed by the Department of Justice, find their position here courtesy of the EFF. The main objection is that the DOJ will now have the power to bring civil actions and is forced to turn the proceeds over to private industry, essentially making what is now a private system of enforcing copyright and trademark laws a government function. The DOJ also felt that appointment of an IP Czar with the duties described in the legislation would violate the principle of separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

The Justice Department mandate was removed to ease their objections. The IP Czar post remained and Espinel was appointed in 2009; the CCIA is clearly not impressed with her direction.

I can’t say I’m impressed either. Hard to believe she studied at the LSE — first they are caught red handed on Libya, now this? I would caution the White House not only on grounds of questionable justification (who really believes IP alone has the same risk calculation as terrorism or assassination?) but on the fact that broadening the wiretap for vague commercial interests will seriously weaken national security.

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