May 11, 2010 / 3:17 AM / 10 years ago

Why Hollywood should be nervous about court pick

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood may have some reason to be nervous about President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden applaud beside nominee for Supreme Court Justice Solicitor General Elena Kagan in the East Room at the White House in Washington May 10, 2010. REUTERS/Jim Young

Not a whole lot is known about Kagan’s judicial philosophy, which in some ways, makes her the perfect pick to win confirmation by the Senate. Her record on issues the industry cares about, though, isn’t entirely opaque.

Hollywood’s biggest worry about Kagan might be her philosophy on intellectual property matters. As dean of Harvard Law School from 2003 to 2009, she was instrumental in beefing up the school’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society by recruiting Lawrence Lessig and others who take a strongly liberal position on “fair use” in copyright disputes.

Most notably, during those years, Professor Charles Nesson at the Berkman Center represented accused file-sharer Joel Tenenbaum in the defense of a lawsuit by the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group representing the major U.S. record labels. Professor Nesson led his cyberlaw class in alleging that “the RIAA is abusing law and the civil process” with excessive damage claims in piracy cases. It was Kagan herself who wrote a personal letter to the U.S. District Court to help certify the students.

Paradoxically, the Obama administration later weighed in on the side of the RIAA in the case. But that was before Kagan was fully confirmed as U.S. Solicitor General. At the time, Professor Nesson expressed some doubts about whether Kagan would back the government’s amicus brief and also called her “enlightened” on these issues.

Kagan got her biggest opportunity to showcase her feelings on IP when the U.S. Supreme Court asked her, as U.S. Solicitor General, to weigh in on the big Cablevision case.

Hollywood was upset when Cablevision announced its intention to allow subscribers to store TV programs on the cable operator’s computer servers instead of a hard-top box. The introduction of remote-storage DVR kicked off furious litigation, and the 2nd Circuit overturned a lower court ruling by saying that the technology wouldn’t violate copyright holder’s rights. The studios appealed to the Supreme Court.

In Kagan’s brief to the high court, she argued the justices shouldn’t take the case and trumpeted fair use. She went against broadcasters there and even criticized Cablevision for limiting the scope of its arguments.

Of course, this isn’t quite enough evidence to predict what kind of U.S. Supreme Court justice she will be. At Harvard, she was famous for ingratiating herself to professors of all political stripes, so who knows if Nesson has a good read on her? Working in the Obama administration, she also surrounded herself with entertainment industry advocates, including as her assistant, Ginger Anders, who worked on an amicus brief in the Cablevision case for a coalition that included the RIAA.

And finally, Hollywood’s got at least one reason to cheer. Her history in academia suggests she’ll be an extreme supporter of free speech under the First Amendment.

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