We're not sure if Tom Perrelli helped the RIAA in their case against terminally ill Ciara Sauro, but as co-chair of the law firm Jenner & Block’s entertainment and new media practice he has represented the RIAA in a number of file-sharing cases. Perrelli -- who also served the position during the Clinton administration -- is a much more interesting choice this decade considering the sue-happy RIAA's role in file sharing and piracy litigation. Oh, and the entertainment industry’s $7,669,442 in contributions to the Obama campaign only makes it juicier.
As Digital Daily's John Paczkowski reported last week, among President-elect Barack Obama's four former Clinton administration officials appointed to leadership posts in the Justice Department last Monday was the favored counsel of the Recording Industry Association of America. Perrelli has represented the RIAA in a number of file-sharing cases, as stated prominently in his official biography: “Mr. Perrelli regularly represents the recording industry in cutting-edge intellectual property, technology, and anti-piracy litigation. He has represented the recording industry in a host of cases arising under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), as well as in copyright infringement and digital piracy litigation. He has also represented the record industry and recording artists in a series of copyright royalty proceedings before the Copyright Royalty Board.”
To be clear, Perrelli has represented the RIAA in lawsuits against individual file sharers, like one filed in Michigan accuses a university student of distributing "hundreds of sound recordings over his system without the authorization of the copyright owners," and one against a Princeton University student makes similar arguments. Perrelli and his colleagues also tried to force Charter Communications to give up the names of 93 file-trading subscribers.
A 2004 summary of a Boston lawsuit written by Harvard's Berkman Center -- which opposed the RIAA in this and a current case -- quotes Perrelli as telling a federal judge that it would be easy to determine who was using a wireless network to share music. "It is correct that the actual downloader may be someone else in the household," he said, but any errors can be determined easily after a "modest amount of discovery."
It might seem as though we're trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but as our industry is still searching for ways to monetize and limit the risks of file sharing (ie - keep the promotional value in tact while still trying to keep a dollar value on intellectual property), the stance the Obama administration takes on this matter could be instrumental in dictating the direction the music industry ultimately moves in. As Writes News.com’s Declan McCullagh writes, Obama's selection of Joe Biden as vice president showed that the presidential hopeful was comfortable with someone with firmly pro-RIAA views. Biden urged the criminal prosecutions of copyright-infringing peer-to-peer users and tried to create a new federal felony involving playing unauthorized music.
If confirmed by the Senate, which is unlikely to pose much of a hurdle, Perrelli would oversee the department's civil division, the antitrust division, and the civil rights division.
As McCullagh concludes, during [Perrelli's] confirmation hearing, it will be instructive to see if senators ask whether his zealous anti-file sharing advocacy can make him an objective civil servant–especially when these same politicians want the Justice Department to sue peer-to-peer pirates at taxpayer’s expense. (Then again, if that proposal becomes law, Perrelli’s surely the right man for the job.) It will also be instructive to see if this week’s news prompts some of the RIAA’s longtime adversaries to moderate their enthusiasm for Obama’s technology policies.