US Copyright Czar Comments on Legality of Cloud Services

June 8th, 2011

United States intellectual property enforcement coordinator, Victoria A. Espinel, spoke today at the World Copyright Summit in Brussels.  Among other things, she discussed copyright and privacy issues involved in new technologies, including Cloud-based computer services.

The New York Times conducted a phone interview following her speech, where she elaborated on her views.

Quoted from the NYT Article:

Q. Do you see cloud services as primarily being legal alternatives to illegal file-sharing networks, or do they present other problems of copyright?

A. I hear it asserted that the cloud is going to cause huge increases in piracy; I’ve also heard that the cloud will be the savior. My own view is that the cloud is neutral. It’s not inherently predisposed to be legal or illegal. I think the capacity for storage in the cloud and the flexibility of cloud-based services mean that there is more scope now to develop truly compelling legal alternatives that consumers will really like. But you can build a cloud-based service that’s illegal, and you can build a cloud-based service that is legal. As the government, as the Obama administration, what we want to try to do is encourage the building of legal alternatives and try to get the illegal alternatives off the Internet.

. . .

Q. Are there particular concerns about copyright or privacy that come up in regard to cloud computing?

A. Generally it seems to me that the issues coming up are variations of issues that have already come up with the advent of the Internet. The cloud can intensify or accelerate the pace at which we as a government need to address those issues, and which the marketplace needs to address those issues.

One of the things that will be interesting is that the flexibility of cloud-based services, the fact that they allow consumers to access music, movies, whatever content they want, is that it may have an interesting impact of what our concept ownership is. It’s my opinion that there still a strong bias for consumers to own something, to own a piece of music or a movie. I don’t think that desire for ownership is going to go away. But I do think that the way cloud based services work may start to change our idea of what ownership means.

Her statements overall do not take a strong stance in either direction about the legality cloud services, as she notes that some may be illegal and others legal (which makes sense as these copyright cases would be largely based on the individual facts and services).  The fact that Espinola is already familiar with cloud services and their potential legal and social effects is significant in that it supports the Obama administration’s position on the importance of protecting intellectual property and keeping US IP law and policy current with evolving technologies.  Espinola is the first ever IP Enforcement Coordinator, a position created by the Obama administration.