Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Possible Future Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, Comes Under Fire

Alex Pareene had written an article for Salon regarding the possible next solicitor general, should the Senate confirm Elena Kagan as the next Supreme Court justice.

Here is what Pareene writes of associate White House counsel Donald Verrilli, whom according to Mark Ambinder, will be the next Obaama pick.
Verrilli was formerly a senior litigator in the D.C. offices of Jenner & Block. And in that position, before Obama brought him to the Justice Department, Verrilli is most famous for representing the Recording Industry Association of America in a case against a Minnesota woman who shared 24 songs on Kazaa in 2005. The RIAA won, and Thomas was found liable and ordered to pay $220,000 in damages. Verrilli supposedly convinced a judge to accept jury instructions that the judge ultimately found misleading. (The case was retried, and Thomas was found to owe $2 million. A judge reduced the damages.)

Representing the jerks suing a woman for "making available" 24 songs on Kazaa is bad enough, but Verrilli also "led the Jenner & Block team that is pursuing a $1 billion copyright case on behalf of Viacom Inc. against Google and YouTube, alleging massive violations of Viacom's copyrighted motion pictures and television shows." (This suit led Cory Doctorow to accuse Viacom senior execs of wanting to "create and profit from lawsuits" instead of television.)

And Verrilli, working for MGM, convinced the Supreme Court that peer-to-peer network operators are liable for copyright infringement by users, which killed Grokster.
While Pareene writes that Verrilli was already under fire from civil libertarians for authoring the administration's revised state secrets rules, it was the above actions that make Verrilli a target from another group - the online community.

I really don't see Verrilli to be the villain he is made out to be. While Pareene gets some flack for representing the RIAA and winning, people seem to give the loser a free pass. Pareene labels Verrilli's clients as "jerks," while makes the woman found guilty of piracy sound like a victim of the system, claiming she was only "making available" songs. When this story first broke, my opinion was that the defendant should have understood the associated risks, although I believed the damages to be excessive, I thought having Thomas to pay something would have been an appropriate course of action.

As for the Viacom case, while I agree that sites like YouTube should not be allowing copyrighted content,the lawsuit sounds pretty fishy to me.

From an article for guardian.co.uk by Bobbie Johnson:
One filing by YouTube suggests that Viacom had seriously entertained the possibility of buying the website in 2006, referring to an internal Viacom presentation which said that "we believe YouTube would make a transformative acquisition for MTV Networks/Viacom that would immediately make us the leading deliverer of video online, globally". It is not clear how serious this proposal was at the time.

In addition, YouTube argues that not only did Viacom "routinely" take the step of deliberately leaving pirated clips from ordinary users on the site because of their promotional value, but that it actually put up videos on YouTube - often surreptitiously.

"For years Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there," said Zahavah Levine, YouTube's chief counsel, in a blog post published today.

"It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately 'roughed up' the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses."

Faced with underground marketing efforts which had the stated aim of making video "look hijacked" in order to make sure it would "leak on YouTube", the site argues that it could never have been expected to accurately gauge whether or not had permission to post videos online.

Under American copyright law, internet service providers and websites are not directly responsible for the actions of their users and it is the duty of copyright holders to request that pirated versions of their be taken offline. However, the situation has become more complex in recent years with the advent of widespread file sharing and systems that make it easier to share copyrighted content without permission.
In my opinion, Viacom is the jerk, Verrilli is the hired help.

Now, for the MGM decision, I would personally side with Grokster, and feel that the more appropriate measure would have been one similar to the case involving the "making available" of songs through Kazaa. I do agree that the case is very tricky, and I think both sides had very good arguments, but I had felt that Grokster's argument was a little bit better, although the Supreme Court seemed to disagree.

Based on these issues alone, I really don't see a problem with Verrilli, and considering the role of the solicitor general, I think that Verrilli may be more suited then Kagan, although I must say I know less about Kagan then I do about Verrilli.

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