Obama Finally Appoints IP Czar... Puts It In The Wrong Department

from the of-course dept

In a move that surprises no one, the Obama administration finally got around to officially nominating Victoria Espinel to be the IP Czar, a position that was created out of thin air a year ago in the ProIP Act, though the position went entirely unfilled until now. Hollywood lobbyists have been pushing the administration to appoint someone ever since the spring, and VP Joe Biden had to come out and calm Hollywood execs and lawyers by promising them the "right person" would be appointed (meaning: not someone who is interested in copyright reform).

And yet... there was no appointment for so long. Why? Well, a few weeks ago, it was explained that there was a fight over where to put the position and under what group Espinel's office would exist. The most obvious group was the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The problem? Most of the folks in OSTP actually seem to understand the problems of copyright law. They're fans of openness and understand things like Creative Commons. Entertainment industry lobbyists started to freak out again, that even if they got someone on "their side," that placing them in OSTP would stifle them, as the rest of the group might (gasp!) actually push back on attempts to stretch copyright enforcement towards the maximalist position. Instead, they wanted the position to be either its own office (entirely unlikely) or, in the Office of Management & Budget. Why OMB? No good reason. The position doesn't fit there at all... but putting it there keeps it away from those darn "copyleftists" in OSTP.

So where did the position end up? Yup... it's a part of OMB, just like Hollywood wanted. Lobbyists on all sides of the equation -- including consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, though, are saying that Espinel is a good appointee. I certainly hope so, though I disagree that the position should exist at all. Also, Espinel was formerly the IP boss for the US Trade Representative -- a group that has been known to push for more draconian IP laws, and to do so cloaked in secrecy. So... I'm hoping to be surprised, but putting the office in OMB and having someone from USTR isn't encouraging.

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    Mockingbird (profile), 26 Sep 2009 @ 8:59am

    Appointing Espinel to the post of IPEC ("IP Tsar") and placing the IPEC in OMB are not, in and of themselves, alarming acts. The IPEC's role, read narrowly, deals mainly with enforcement of existing laws and international agreements. The OMB and the office of the USTR are explicitly required by law to be part of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Advisory Committee which the IPEC heads. Considered from this narrow perspective, Appointing Espinel to the post and placing the IPEC in OMB are reasonable moves.

    But "this narrow perspective" is not the only way to look at things. One of the IPEC's duties is to "make recommendations, if any and as appropriate, to Congress for improvements in Federal intellectual property laws and enforcement efforts." A broad perspective could make the IPEC's work part of a comprehensive policy of copyright reform. But we learn from the CNET interview with Aneesh Chopra that copyright reform is simply not a priority for President Obama. Seen in this light, placing the IPEC in OMB can be taken as part of a comprehensive policy not to rock the boat where copyright is concerned. The clear conclusion to draw is that we copyfighters frankly have much much more work to do if we want to get our concerns assigned higher priority in the halls of power.

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