Meet Obama’s new “piracy czar,” same as the old czar

The White House this week nominated a trademark and licensing lawyer to be “piracy czar,” a position that involves coordinating intellectual property enforcement across various parts of the federal government. The new czar, Danny Marti, arrives a year after the previous czar, Victoria Espinel left to head a software lobby group.

The choice of Marti, a partner at Washington law firm Kilpatrick Townsend, was hailed by Hollywood lobbyists.

“Danny’s impressive record of commitment to enforcing IP rights in the Internet age makes him a particularly strong choice,” former senator Chris Dodd, who is now CEO of the Motion [company]Picture Association of America[/company], told Variety. An executive from the [company]Recording Industry of America[/company] offered similar plaudits.

Marti, whose appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, is likely to devote most of his efforts to shutting down websites that distribute unauthorized media and branded merchandise.

His predecessor, Espinel, oversaw programs like the “Copyright Alert System,” for ISP’s and copyright owners, and “Operation in Our Sites,” in which enforcement officials conducted ritual seizure of websites ahead of events like the Super Bowl and Black Friday. Espinel also handled the White House’s response to the debacle known as SOPA, in which outrage from internet communities led Congress to retreat from a sweeping new anti-piracy law.

Marti himself has yet to say what he would do as piracy czar, but it’s hard to imagine he will chart a course much difference than Espinel’s.

That’s a shame. Leaving aside the U.S. fixation with “czar” titles, it’s worth asking why the intellectual property czar must focus exclusively on enforcement, and not on broader issues of fostering science and creativity — which is the point of IP laws in the first place.

While rights owners certainly have legitimate concerns over piracy, there is no reason why the White House czar can’t also spend his time on other IP-related problems such as curbing abusive copyright enforcement and patent trolls. The actions of the trolls can undercut respect for intellectual property in the same way that piracy does and, in the long run, stopping the trolls could win more sympathy for Hollywood in its campaign against the pirates.

An earlier version of this story referred to Marti as an “entertainment industry” lawyer. I’ve updated to say “trademark and licensing lawyer” (Marti’s ful bio here

Czar Nicholas II