Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An open letter to Victoria Espinel

Victoria Espinel is the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator--unofficially, the "copyright czar" of the U.S.A. She was appointed to that position by Barack Obama last September, and confirmed by the Senate in December. She's the first holder of this position, a job which was created by the PRO-IP Act, a bill that passed through Congress in 2008 and increased civil and criminal penalties for copyright and trademark violation. The job of the "copyright czar" is to "formulate a Joint Strategic Plan for combating counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property and for coordinating national and international enforcement efforts to protect intellectual property rights.(According to the Bill Summary). The document referred and linked to in the first sentence below is the first major product of her office; it was released a few weeks ago.

Dear Ms. Espinel,

I have recently received a copy of the 2010 Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, and there is much in the document to be commended. In particular, its awareness of the benefits of fair use (p. 4) and its call for research into the actual effects of infringement (pp. 18-19) are highly laudable.

However, I was dismayed to find not a single mention of the public domain, much less any protection for it. The entire report focuses on governmental protection of private property holders, a necessary goal, to be sure, but who speaks for the public? It is the responsibility of the government to protect the public against those who would steal our common property away through false copyright claims.

If we are to use the analogy of theft, then the false claim of copyright on material in the public domain is akin to allowing individuals and corporations to enter our National Parks and take, not pictures, but trees. No, worse, it is to allow them to build vacation homes on the land, fence it off, and shoot trespassers.

Such activity is piracy and intellectual property theft of the most naked sort, and it robs every one of us. If the Executive Branch of the US Government does not speak for public property, who will?

With thanks for your consideration,


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