Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama's Canadian Visit and Copyright

Michael Geist has beaten me to the punch on the subject of the forthcoming Obama visit to Canada. Naturally, copyright lobbyists in Washington and Ottawa will try to take full advantage of the occasion.

The Democrats have traditionally been even cozier with the entertainment industries than Republicans. Maybe the Dems like to party more. However, the Bush administration was extremely aggressive in its attempts to impose the DMCA on other countries, including the acquiescent John Howard regime in Australia. This is nothing if not ironic, given that Bruce Lehman, the father of the DMCA and the WIPO treaties under the Clinton administration, has now essentially all but disowned them.

Much may depend on whether Obama follows through on the unwise recent legislation that would appoint an IP czar that would, effectively, have cabinet level status. The last thing the new President needs in this economy for the foreseeable future is a cabinet secretary knocking on his door whining about how the sky is falling due to an absurdly expanded notion of “piracy” and how Canada and other supposedly rogue states should be dealt with under the US “Special 301" regime. Of course, he could equally as well appoint Larry Lessig - but don’t hold your breath. The best appointment for the foreseeable future for the czar position may be no appointment.

Specifically, Obama has proposed an interesting appointment as Associate Attorney General, namely Thomas Perrelli, a lawyer at Jenner & Block, who has been a key lawyer for the RIAA. While this may cause concern in some quarters, I have heard from some people on the other side of the fence from the RIAA who nonetheless speak very highly of him as a professional and are optimistic that he could bring an open and informed mind to this important position - which, of course, deals with lots of things other than IP.

Hopefully, President Elect Obama will give Canada the courtesy of full space and sovereignty on this and other issues to do what’s best for Canada, consistent with existing international law. And hopefully, Canada will do just that. That would be “change” that many in both countries would welcome.

By the way, while we all greatly look forward to this historic visit by this historic person, there should not be any excessive significance given to the fact that Canada will be his first official foreign visit. It has become something of a tradition that Canada will be the first port of call for a new U.S. President.

Prime Minister Harper and President Obama will have a lot to talk about. It is entirely possible and would not be such a bad thing, considering the state of the world now, that copyright does not even arise on the agenda.


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