The White House wants your advice on fighting piracy

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If you’re among the throng of citizens outraged by questionable legislation such as SOPA, PIPA, CISPA and ACTA, the White House has a deal for you. On Monday, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel called on all interested parties to submit their comments and suggestions for how the United States should go about combating IP piracy. That’s right: clearly having learned a lesson from the backlash its peers in Congress endured recently, the executive branch is trying to open up the process and, presumably, develop an anti-piracy strategy that’s actually sane.

Yes, it’s something of a “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” situation given the recent history with the federal government and IP laws, but Espinel’s plan looks good on the surface. At the least, it’s open — Espinel says all suggestions made via Regulations.gov by July 25 will be made publicly available. If the executive branch decides to go crazy prosecuting relatively minor infringements (like, I don’t know, Richard O’ Dwyer) or supporting draconian bills, it can’t say it hasn’t heard the opposing viewpoints.

Espinel is also requiring anyone citing the economic losses from piracy to back up their claims with real proof. This is a fair requirement. Content-industry lobbyists, especially, are notorious for claiming huge losses as a result of online piracy, but have also been accused of significant exaggeration. For example, one common question is whether individuals who illegally download content ever would have paid for it in the first place. From the call for suggestions:

Submissions directed at the economic costs resulting from violations of intellectual property rights must clearly identify: (1)The type of intellectual property protection at issue, e.g., trademark, copyright, patent, trade secret or other (2) the methodology used in calculating the estimated costs and any critical assumptions relied upon, (3) identify the source of the data on which the cost estimates are based, and (4) provide a copy of, or a citation to, each such source of information.

Of course, while this all sounds good on paper, it’s of limited utility. The executive branch does get to decide whether or not it actually enforces the laws (it decided last year, for example, not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act) and can veto bad legislation, but it’s Congress’s job to actually draft new laws for dealing with IP. And if President Obama loses in November, Espinel could be gone by January along with whatever strategy the current administration decides upon.

Still, federal regulations are still made via notice and comment through the Federal Register and federal laws are still written in Congress, not on a Google doc started by Reddit. There’s no guarantee of any particular result, but if you want to ensure the government at least hears your opinion on IP without having to employ a lobbyist, this is as good an opportunity as any to do it.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user Wilm Ihlenfeld.

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