Wednesday, April 15, 2009

President Obama talked a lot about keeping special interests out of his administration, but he has five lawyers from the recording industry in top Justice Department slots. These appointments have music downloaders singing the blues.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas J. Perrilli, Associate Deputy Attorney General Donald Verrilli and Deputy Assistant Attorney General-designate Ian Gershengorn all count the Recording Industry Association of America or its members as former clients. Brian Hauck, council to the associate attorney general, and Ginger Anders, assistant to the solicitor general, also worked for the recording industry. They all have worked at the powerhouse firm Jenner & Block. The RIAA definitely is getting what it paid for.

Last month, the Obama administration weighed in on behalf of the recording industry’s position in a file-sharing lawsuit pending in a Massachusetts federal court. The case involves two of the more than 30,000 persons sued by the industry in the past five years for downloading songs. In a brief in the combined case of Capitol Records Inc. et al. v. Noor Alaujun and Sony BMG Music Entertainment et al. v. Joel Tenenbaum, the Justice Department supported the industry stance that illegal downloaders should face penalties as high as $150,000 per track for violating copyright law. That kind of cash certainly beats singing for tips.

The music industry’s campaign against downloaders is coming to a slow close as it lobbies Internet providers to block service to copyright pirates. According to, Mr. Perrilli argued in a 2002 case that Internet service providers should release customer information to industry interests without first getting a court subpoena. It will be interesting to see if Justice Department officials under Mr. Perrilli take similar positions, especially on the push for Internet service providers to block service to customers who have not been charged with a crime.

The revolving door between industry and government is spinning wildly under Mr. Obama. There’s nothing new about politicians serving the interests that donated to their campaigns and helped get them elected, but Mr. Obama sold the public on the notion that he would be different. He’s not. While the president might be crooning the James Brown classic “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” music lovers are worried about his Justice Department’s baggage.

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