Institutional voices

The ABA on piracy: better laws; fewer lawsuits; protect the web

Last week, the American Bar Association (ABA), a membership organization that represents lawyers in the United States, released a white paper addressing online piracy and counterfeiting. As reported by Rob Stott on the Associations Now web site:

... the American Bar Association thinks the entertainment industry needs to change course in how it’s combating offenders. In a new white paper [PDF] released earlier this month by the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law (IPL), the group urged the entertainment industry and ABA’s 400,000-lawyer membership to stop moving forward with online file-sharing lawsuits against individual consumers, calling the practice costly and bad for public relations.

The white paper calls upon the U.S. Congress to enact legislation that would better protect intellectual property rights against international threats. Interestingly, it also "urges U.S. lawmakers to seek input from relevant stakeholders and to balance the respective interests and responsibilities of rights holders, Internet businesses, and Internet users."

The white paper calls for changes, but cautions against any efforts that would:

  • Expand or contract existing IP rights
  • Impede free speech and expression
  • Restrict the future growth of the Internet
  • Stifle legitimate innovations in the structure and/or functionality of the Internet

[This bulleted list is taken verbatim from a summary provided by the association.]

The white paper was published by the Intellectual Property Law section of the ABA, which supports almost four dozen such sections to address the needs of its many members. While there are likely some ABA members who will differ with the report's recommendations, it is encouraging to see an establishment voice taking issue with the notion that prosecuting the public is a viable solution to losses suffered from online piracy.

Even more encouraging: the ABA is making a broad call to protect at least some of those things that make the web a vital part of our lives. It asks for better protections, but not at the cost of the web itself. Here's hoping that more institutional voices will lend their voices to that conversation.

A bit of disclosure: We have consulted with the ABA on two workflow assignments, the more recent ending early in 2010. Neither involved the handling of or policies related to intellectual property. This post is based wholly on publicly available information.