Will Obama's copyright czar help save the music?

DENVER (Billboard) - From Bruce Springsteen to Stevie Wonder, plenty of musicians supported President-elect Barack Obama. Now music executives are wondering what kind of support they’ll see from the Obama administration.

Soon after an inauguration that Washington, D.C., insiders are speculating could be one of the musical events of the year, Obama will officially name a copyright czar -- one of the most important decisions he’ll make, as far as the music business is concerned.

That position -- officially known by the less glamorous-sounding title of intellectual property enforcement coordinator -- was created by the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act, signed in mid-October. The law is aimed at coordinating the anti-piracy efforts of such disparate agencies as the Department of Justice, the Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Trade Representative.

While more urgent positions, like Treasury Secretary, are likely to push back the decision until after Obama takes office January 30, speculation has already begun around who could -- and should -- get the job.

Music executives want a candidate with experience working with government, expertise in copyright law and -- perhaps most importantly -- appreciation for the importance of intellectual property. The name most commonly mentioned at this point is lobbyist Hal Ponder, director of government relations at the American Federation of Musicians and the former director of policy for the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees. While Ponder says that he hasn’t had direct conversations with Obama’s transition team, he says, “it’s a job that would be very interesting.”

The music industry’s first choice is probably another lobbyist, Michele Ballantyne, senior VP of federal government and industry relations for the Recording Industry Assn. of America, the trade group for the major U.S. labels. She has impressive connections among Democrats: She was the general counsel for former Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and a special counselor to former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, who is leading Obama’s transition team.

Another name in the mix is George Mason law professor Victoria Espinel, who held several positions in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. And rounding out the shortlist is a name familiar to Nashville veterans: Bill Ivey, former head of the Country Music Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Academy. He’s currently at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but he’s working with Obama’s transition team on cultural agency appointments.

Whoever Obama appoints can expect scrutiny from the content and technology industries. While ostensibly a coordinating position, the copyright czar job could easily expand to include advising the president.

Naturally, the technology industry -- where Obama has many supporters -- would like someone in that role who has a more liberal definition of fair use. And Obama has also talked of creating a post for an official chief technology officer, who would presumably favor that as well.

Obama’s list of technology gurus includes former IAC/InterActive executive Julius Genachowski, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Google head of global development initiatives Sonal Shah. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, a vocal advocate of radically reduced copyright restrictions, served as a technology adviser to Obama’s primary campaign but hasn’t held an advisory role since.

“There is some concern in the copyright community about people who have been involved in the tech side of this campaign,” says Recording Academy VP of government relations Daryl Friedman. “It’s probably an overblown concern. We think he will be balanced.”

Of course, the content industry also has strong allies in Vice President-elect Joseph Biden -- a well-established supporter of copyright enforcement -- and Podesta, who before his stint in the Clinton White House served as chief minority counsel for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks.