Copyright debate heats up over Obama appointments

Groups representing intellectual-property holders and groups opposed to strict IP enforcement are sending President Obama opposing messages about his administration picks.

As industry and public interest groups wait for the president to fill the remaining positions in his administration, such as the new position of intellectual-property enforcement coordinator, opposing sides of the copyright debate are speaking up.

The Copyright Alliance, along with 40 other groups representing intellectual-property holders, sent a letter (PDF) to President Obama on Monday arguing that intellectual-property protection stimulates creativity and creates jobs.

The letter was sent in response to an earlier letter, sent by 19 different groups, that urged the president to choose administration officials who "reflect the diversity of stakeholders affected by IP policy."

The April 2 letter, signed by groups including Public Knowledge, the American Library Association, and the Consumer Electronics Association, said that, "To date, several of (Obama's) appointees to positions that oversee the formulation and implementation of IP policy have, immediately prior to their appointments, represented the concentrated copyright industries."

The president has, in fact, filled out some high-level Justice Department positions with lawyers favored by the copyright industry, including attorneys who have represented the Recording Industry Association of America and the Business Software Alliance. The signatories of the April 2 letter said the Justice Department's intervention last month in favor of a record label in a file-sharing case heightens their concern.

"We ask you to consider that individuals who support overly broad IP protection might favor established distribution models at the expense of technological innovators, creative artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and an increasingly participatory public," the letter said. "Overzealous expansion and enforcement of copyright, for example, can quash innovative information technologies, the development and marketing of new and useful devices, and the creation of new works, as well as prohibit the public from accessing and using its cultural heritage."

The letter also asks the president to create new offices in agencies like the State Department dedicated to promoting innovation, to counter the enforcement-focused IP enforcement coordinator position.

The letter sent Monday by groups like the Directors Guild of America, the Entertainment Software Association, and Time Warner countered that "enforcement of copyrights and patents and protecting the freedom to create and be compensated for it are essential components of promoting the progress of sciences and arts, as articulated so clearly by our Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution."

IP protection and promoting innovation are not mutually exclusive, the letter continued.

"Intellectual property drives innovation and creativity, from the production of new creative works to the development of consumer electronics and medicine," it said.

The letter sites research indicating that the creative industries employ 38 million U.S. workers and points out that copyright and patent protections apply to a number of different businesses including movies, visual arts, video games, computer software, and pharmaceuticals.

The intellectual property holders said in their letter that Obama's administration is diverse in experience and perspectives and that the president's appointees so far have been solid choices.

"We have every confidence these hallmarks will be demonstrated in your future IP policy appointments," their letter said.

Featured Video