With any change in administration come questions about the policy priorities for the next two, four, or even eight years. While the “first 100 days” is typically a key benchmark for any new administration post-FDR, it usually takes longer to evaluate where policies related to copyright and other areas of intellectual property fall in the list of priorities.
So, while it’s too early to know how the Biden-Harris administration’s copyright legacy will unfold, we do have clues about both President Biden and Vice President Harris that suggest the next four years could bode well for the copyright community.
As senators, Biden and Harris both sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC)—President Biden chaired the Committee for eight years during his tenure, while Vice President Harris represented the state of California in the United States Senate—a state known for strong ties to the creative industries. While the SJC is widely known for its role in considering appointments to the federal bench, it is also the Senate committee responsible for oversight of copyright law and legislation.
As a senator, Biden was a founding member of the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus—a group formed in 2003 to deal with anti-piracy on an international scope. He was also one of 19 signatories to a letter asking then-Attorney General John Ashcroft “to prosecute individuals who intentionally allow mass copying from their computer over peer-to-peer networks.” During her tenure on the SJC, Harris was an original co-sponsor of the MMA—“the most significant improvement of music copyright law in more than a generation [which helps] make it easier for creators across the music industry to earn a more equitable living through their creativity.”
As vice president, Biden’s portfolio included the administration’s anti-piracy efforts. As a part of the administration’s efforts to bolster enforcement, Biden hosted a summit that brought government officials together with copyright industry executives to discuss ways to address piracy. In a 2010 interview, then-Vice President Biden called piracy “outright theft,” and compared it to “smashing the window at Tiffany’s and reaching in and grabbing what’s” inside.
President Biden also has extensive ties to the copyright industries, including via White House Communications Director Kate Beddington (who previously served as spokesperson and vice president of corporate communications at the Motion Picture Association (MPA)) and White House Deputy Press Secretary TJ Ducklo (former deputy director of corporate communications at MPA). Biden also remains good friends with Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcaster, with whom he served in Congress.
It’s no secret that the Obama administration was not favorable toward the copyright interests of creators. For example, the Obama administration had an unusually close relationship with Google (which is notorious for its anti-copyright stance). According to one report, “Google representatives attended White House meetings more than once a week, on average, from the beginning of Obama’s presidency through October 2015” and “[n]early 250 people have shuttled from government service to Google employment or vice versa over the course of [the Obama] administration.” So, there are valid concerns about whether the Biden administration will follow suit or will choose, instead, to forge a path more favorable to creators.
The president and vice president also have personal ties to the creative community that hit closer to home—connections that would hopefully give them greater appreciation of the value that creators bring to the economy and culture of the country. Hunter Biden, the president’s son, is an artist who left behind a career as a lawyer and lobbyist to pursue his passion. Melissa Cohen, Hunter’s wife and the president’s daughter-in-law, is a documentary filmmaker.
Harris’ niece, Meena Harris, is a best-selling children’s book author, and her step-daughter, Ella Emhoff is a textile artist, painter and design student at the Parsons School of Design. And while not a creator himself, the second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, is an intellectual property and entertainment law attorney who has represented both copyright owners and users in litigation. Emhoff took a leave of absence from his firm to take on a role in the new administration, and last month, he began teaching media and entertainment law courses at Georgetown Law In a show of great appreciation for good music, Emhoff’s children (Ella and Cole) are named after jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, and saxophonist John Coltrane.
While some questions remain about whether Biden will step up to support creators in ways that the Obama administration did not, and about Harris’ ties to big tech—especially given her Silicon Valley constituency as a senator—there are a number of reasons to believe that the Biden-Harris administration will look favorably upon creators and the creative communities, as beacons of economic growth and American culture. As appointments to key posts within the administration continue to be made, it will become clearer exactly where the Biden-Administration stands on issues important to creators. It is our hope that the administration will support creators by continuing to appoint qualified individuals who understand the value of copyright and who support the creative community.