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Government for and by the Corporations

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am a strong Obama supporter. But that doesn’t mean I give him a pass when he makes a mistake, even one as stupid as this one.

Obama announced Monday that he is appointing Donald Verrilli to be solicitor general, the government’s top lawyer and the position vacated by Elena Kagan when she was appointed to the Supreme Court. Before joining the government in 2009, Verrilli was involved in a number of prominent cases for the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). He represented the companies that shut down Grokster, he led a team of lawyers that sued Google for $1 billion on behalf of Viacom, arguing that Google owned site YouTube was responsible for massive copyright violations, and he won a $220,000 judgement against a Minnesota woman for file sharing 24 songs.

I believe the modern excessive expansion of copyright law has had a stifling effect on innovation and even on the economy of this country. I am not against copyrights, but as the founding fathers knew, they must be balanced against the public interest. I guess throwing the entertainment industry a bone is more important politically.



  1. Michael wrote:

    I’m ambivalent about the pick. Yes, I very strongly disagree with the RIAA’s crusade against their customers, as well as the absurd overreach of current copyright law. However, Verrilli’s role as counsel is to represent his client’s interest. It is important to not conflate the views of the client and the opinions of the lawyer. If anything, his track record with the RIAA demonstrates that he is an effective lawyer.

    Since he joined the Department of Justice two years ago, what has his record been? I think that is more important in regard to his nomination as solicitor general. Note, too, that he filed an amicus brief that even Jose Padilla should be granted due process as a citizen. He’s also done pro bono work in a case that helped to define what constitutes effective counsel for death penalty cases.

    So I’m not passing judgment one way or the other yet, because I don’t know enough about him. However, criticizing him for effectively representing the entertainment industries seems a bit presumptive.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  2. starluna wrote:

    I am inclined to agree with your criticism of this nomination. In education, DMCA has made our lives a little less secure and I can say that we do things that probably violate it but since I don’t want to be the first case on the subject, I am certainly not going to stick my neck out. I certainly hate to think of what might happen if there was more aggressive government enforcement of what I agree is set of oppressive copyright laws.

    But at the same time, we assume that when government officials and bureaucrats leave public service, they take on the values and prerogatives of the industry they end up working in. But we don’t assume the same when an industry person ends up working in public service. I’ve only seen studies on this question when someone leaves public service. I’d be interested in seeing whether the same holds true when people enter public service. Maybe I should add that to my growing “research that needs doing” folder.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Patricia Andrews wrote:

    I am troubled by the growing reach of coporatism into every arena — including the decision process of both political parties. So I am no longer surprised by any questionable pick from either side of the aisle. The owners of our political process no longer fear being exposed I’m afraid!

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  4. Dan wrote:

    must be one hell of a lawyer, glad he’s working for us.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink
  5. Bard wrote:

    Hey Dick Cheney did a good job separating being Vice President from his time as an executive at Haliburton!

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Well, now that you put it that way … what was I thinking?

    I fully understand that lawyers don’t necessarily believe in the cases they represent. For example, there are lawyers who have defended terrorists, because everyone deserves a fair trial (especially when accused of such a serious crime). And I honor those lawyers who defend the rule of law over the lynch mob.

    But this is not a case like that. If he is such a good lawyer he could have worked anywhere and picked the cases he wanted to work on. Defending someone accused of a terrible crime and making sure they get a fair trial is not even close in evilness to helping some corporation destroy people’s lives just to make examples of them, and extort money out of thousands of others, all in the name of corporate greed. Not to mention that all the money they collected doing this? None of it went to the artists that the recording industry was pretending to defend.

    He chose to do this, repeatedly. I question his judgement.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink
  7. starluna wrote:

    You are most likely correct. But lots of good lawyers, like lots of good teachers, go where the money is good, not where they can do the most good.

    I agree that RIAA’s tactics are shameful. If I believed in evil organizations, they would be high up on that list. Probably top 5, definitely top 10.

    But they are aided by a civil law system which gives them all of the advantages. The same thing is happening in the case of the suit against Blackwater, which ended this week primarily because the families suing Blackwater could not afford the court-ordered arbitration and Blackwater refused to pay. Instead of simply allowing the suit to go forward in court, the judge ended the case.

    RIAA wouldn’t be allowed to do what it does were it not for the laws in place that give them the power to go after people and the courts who let them get away with it. The lawyers simply take advantage of the system.

    I love these discussions. I now have an idea for illustrating an important concept in my research design class tonight. You all are just awesome.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  8. Sammy wrote:

    @Starluna: So you’re saying you just come here to use us for teaching ideas? 🙂

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Starluna, I agree. But the RIAA (along with the MPAA) was instrumental in helping write those laws and lobbying to get them passed. Remember in 1998 when Disney pushed so hard and got the term for copyrights extended, just because the copyright on Mickey Mouse was about to expire (earning the bill the nickname the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act“)?

    Sammy, Starluna can use us all she wants for teaching ideas. I learn a lot from her.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  10. starluna wrote:

    Sammy – that’s the reason I give my department director when she catches me on this site. 🙂

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  11. Jason Ray wrote:

    Lawyers have a responsibility to vigorously represent their client, even if their client is the problem. They will, in fact, be sued for malpractice if they DON’T use every means p;ossible to make their client’s case a winner. And while lawyers can decline to take a case, they usually only do that when they have a personal issue with their client.

    I have met and discussed issues with Don Verelli (we met while I was working on some of those RIAA cases – I was on the other side) and I don’t think you have to be too concerned. He’s working for the Administration now and I would expect he’ll be as competent and vigorous working for us as he was when he was working against us 🙂

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  12. Iron Knee wrote:

    I’m glad to hear that.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink