Thursday, May 23, 2024

White House IP Chief Talks Tough on Online Piracy

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The top White House official overseeing intellectual property issues on Tuesday said that the administration is meeting with a broad array of Internet companies in an attempt to craft policies to curtail the flow of online pirated content.

Victoria Espinel, who serves as the nation’s first intellectual property enforcement coordinator within the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration is working with a variety of stakeholders, including Internet service providers, search engines and payment processors, in what it is billing as a “voluntary cooperation initiative.”

“We are now actively calling on the private sector to do more in this area,” Espinel said this morning at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. “In order to have a functioning Internet, there are many different types of entities and functionalities that you need to make that work. So we are calling on all of those to work cooperatively with the rights holders.”

For instance, Espinel plans to meet tomorrow with a group of domain name registrars and registries to discuss, among other things, the prospect of denying Web addresses to illegal pharmacies selling knock-off drugs.

She acknowledged that the burden of protecting intellectual property is “first and foremost the responsibility of the rights holder,” but added that “without the different parts of the Internet economy working together, it’s going to be very difficult to make progress.”

Espinel spoke largely about the online flow of pirated goods and content, but she is pressing a broader intellectual property agenda outlined in a strategic plan the White House released in June.

One of the umbrella goals detailed in that plan is to improve coordination among the different government entities involved in IP enforcement, aiming to harmonize the efforts of law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels and strengthen cooperation with the private sector.

Espinel noted that the issue of intellectual property is something of an anomaly in Washington these days for the interest members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have expressed in working to strengthen the laws governing enforcement.

“This is an interesting area for the administration to be acting in because there is strong bipartisan support,” she said. “That’s something that is very fortunate for those of us who want to make progress.”

Espinel praised members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, many of whom from both parties have signed on as co-sponsors of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, introduced last week by committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and senior Republican member Orrin Hatch (Utah). That bill would establish a path for the Department of Justice to take action against websites dedicated to peddling unlawful content, including leaning on Internet providers, registrars, payment processors and other Internet players to deny services to the offending sites.

Digital rights groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge have already registered their opposition to certain aspects of the legislation, including international provisions they see as overreaching and the nebulous definition of what constitutes an infringing site.

“It’s quite possible that this bill would have allowed entertainment companies to throttle YouTube at the beginning of its creation by alleging piracy and the young company would have been unable to defend itself,” Public Knowledge Deputy Legal Director Sherwin Siy said in a statement responding to the Leahy bill.

But the bill appears to be on the fast track in this election-shortened session, with 15 cosponsors signed on and a markup hearing scheduled on Thursday.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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