Former White House IP Czar Immediately Jumps Ship To Microsoft-Driven Anti-Piracy Lobbying Group BSA
from the shameful dept
This was rumored for weeks before the former White House IP czar (technically “Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator”) even had announced that she was stepping down from her job, but now it’s been confirmed: just weeks after leaving the White House, Victoria Espinel will take over as the head of the Business Software Alliance, a group with a shameful past of overaggressive anti-piracy and pro-software patent positions, driven in large part by legacy software companies long past their innovation stage, and well into their “litigation” against innovators stage. The organization tends to take its orders mainly from Microsoft and Autodesk, two proponents of very strong copyright and patent enforcement, because it helps those legacy companies ward of competitors and disruptive innovators.
As you may recall, every year the BSA puts out a laughably ridiculous “global piracy study” that argues every infringing copy should count as a “lost sale.” The BSA has a long history of using those reports to mislead the public and policy makers. The BSA also has a long history of raiding companies, tying them up in ridiculous “audits” where if you can’t find the specific paperwork for the software you licensed years ago, you may be forced to pay huge sums. The organization has been widely criticized for the practices which often push small businesses to the edge of bankruptcy just because they can’t find the right paperwork. The program also relies on bribing employees and former employees to rat out their companies based on completely bogus promises of payouts of “up to $1 million,” when they almost never pay out more than $5,000. We once promised to pay out “up to $1 million” if anyone could prove a BSA $1 million payout. We never had to pay out a dime.
The BSA also, of course, was a strong supporter of SOPA until Microsoft realized that its users were angry and that SOPA might cause tremendous problems for the internet… and magically, the BSA suddenly changed its mind. The BSA has always had a close relationship with the federal government, of course. For years, its “anti-piracy” efforts were run by Neil MacBride who, like Espinel, once worked for Joe Biden. MacBride left the BSA after President Obama was elected to become the a top Justice Department official, later switching to become the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virgnia, where he’s been involved in a number of high profile cases, including those involving copyright enforcement — such as the case against Kim Dotcom and Megaupload. Just last week MacBride announced he was stepping down.
It is worth noting that, while I often disagreed with the position of the administration and Espinel on IP enforcement issues, she was much more willing to actually listen to complaints and have pretty open and wide ranging discussions on the issues. In the time she was in office, she was more than willing to reach out and discuss concerns and complaints that I and others had raised about the administration’s positions, and some of her more recent efforts showed that she was certainly willing to take such constructive criticism into account. I hope that she will be willing to do the same in this new position, but I have concerns, since the role is not about pushing for the most effective policy position, but the one that benefits a few giant legacy companies the most. And the BSA is so tainted on that front, it would take a pretty miraculous shift to make the organization a “good” player on these issues.
Of larger concern: Espinel was intimately involved in a number of the discussions on “voluntary” agreements between various industries over how to deal with copyright infringement, meaning that she knows quite well the positions and plans of those whom she now may be fighting against in her new role, where she obviously has strong connections to those still in the government. Considering the massive concern about the “revolving door” between IP maximalist organizations and the government, the risk of bad results here seems quite high. Espinel was quite successful in bringing in a variety of viewpoints and trying to find common ground. Unfortunately, that’s not what her new position likely calls for.