Meet Obama's new Solicitor General: the copyright industry's Donald Verrilli Jr

The Obama administration has just appointed a notorious entertainment industry lawyer to serve as the Solicitor General of the USA. Donald Verrilli Jr. is the industry lawyer who masterminded the case against Grokster, successfully arguing that online service providers should be held liable for the actions of their users and that online libraries containing millions of noninfringing works should be shut down if they also contain infringing works.

Subsequently, he led Viacom vs. YouTube suit, in which he sought to extend the Grokster principle, holding YouTube liable for not reviewing the 29 hours' worth of video they receive every minute to ensure they don't infringe copyright.

Viacom also sought to ban YouTube's privacy features (which allow you to specify that certain videos can only be seen by friends and family) because the ability to restrict viewership of a video made it harder for them to detect infringement.

If confirmed by the Senate, Verilli, now the White House deputy counsel, would assume the powerful position left vacant by Elena Kagan, who was elevated to the Supreme Court. Obama said he was "confident" that Verrilli, one of five former RIAA attorneys appointed to the administration, would "serve ably."

The solicitor general is charged with defending the government before the Supreme Court, and files friend-of-the court briefs in cases in which the government believes there is a significant legal issue. The office also determines which cases it would bring to the Supreme Court for review.

Obama nominates former RIAA lawyer for Solicitor General spot


  1. I’ve helped represent a convicted murderer on appeal and in sentencing. Does that make me pro-murder? Lawyers don’t make, enforce or interpret laws, they argue on behalf of clients.

    Even Congressional Republicans don’t stoop to judging a candidate based on who they’ve represented. This is a lazy article and I expected better.

    1. Except that including the Vice President it seems a lot of his cabinet have a ton of relations to the music and movie industries, and they’re pushing for harsher copyright laws not just here, but worldwide. Not to mention the position is one where he can bring cases they rightfully lost to the Supreme court, which just had Kagan put in. There’s obviously some bias in these decisions, and we all know that the government hates to lose.

    2. This is merely yet another symptom of a larger problem. Obama has repeatedly put corporate interests above citizens’ interests. This nomination is a fractal iteration of AIG Bonus-Man Geithner as Treasury Secretary. The foxes continue to guard the henhouse.

      Also, if you RTFA, RIAA wasn’t Verrilli’s “client,” it was his frickin’ employer. Don’t high-powered attorneys pretty much get to choose their employers?

      1. Verrelli worked for Jenner & Block, a prominent law firm, not directly for the RIAA. But whether it’s his employer AND his client or just his client, the idea that lawyers adopt the positions of their clients simply doesn’t make sense in an adversarial system. Judy Clark defending Jared Laughner doesn’t mean she believes shooting public figures is a wonderful thing to do. Judy Clark is a pretty prominent lawyer. By your logic, she is therefore a wrongdoer by representing him because she could instead have a career based entirely on representing people she agrees with.

    3. Lawyers don’t make, enforce or interpret laws, they argue on behalf of clients.

      True. But the way they represent clients matters, hugely, to the effectiveness of the justice system. The RIAA – and specifically, many of the lawyers who worked for it – are guilty of an abysmal abuse of the system for a mass intimidation campaign, including a large number of ethically dubious practices. That the system is poorly-designed and outright invites such abuse does not improve the moral standing of those who seized the opportunity.

      This isn’t an opinion on Verrilli’s ability to do this job properly, or of his personal record; I do not know enough to judge either. But the DoJ is currently stacked with ex-RIAA lawyers, and keeps intervening in civil cases – on the side of the RIAA. Context matters; in that context, this appointment reeks of special-interest control of what should be a neutral system.

      I give frequent thanks that I live in a country where the law is not yet entirely dictated by Sony and Murdoch. Yet.

    4. And you seriously think that this political appointment will not be so temporary that he won’t do anything to further the career he left and will return to? Might I interest you in a bridge? You seem like and honest man, perhaps you can help me get a large amount of money out of my country? All I need is your bank information and I will gladly reward you with 25% of the millions.

      Alas, Barry is not the least bit above rewarding his corporate contributors. Hope? Change? No, not on his watch.

    5. I can even imagine Verilli, having gotten the president’s attention for a moment at some point, begging “Barack, man, you gotta get me outta this RIAA gig – I need to be doing something more meaningful for the people. Got any openings in Justice?”

  2. Niro, you make a good point. But I think it’s valid to consider the motivations and goals of who one chooses to represent. A public defender arguably is defending more than the individual alleged murderer and thief — they’re defending the liberties of the accused in a free democracy where justice is valued. A corporate lawyer representing media tyrants is not representing just Viacomm, but the priviledge and ideals of corporate dominance over free markets and creative freedom.
    Who one sides with from a big-picture point of view speaks to the big-picture worldview one has.

    1. So if I work for the Federal Defenders, I’m ok morally because I am representing poor people, most of whom are guilty as hell, but if I went to Jenner & Block’s white collar criminal practice, I’m bad morally because I am representing rich people most of whom are guilty as hell?

  3. Meanwhile, Bush’s SG is spearheading the legal fight in favor of gay marriage. Anything goes.

    1. Look, speech is free for the worst, or it’s not free for anyone. The answer is clearly better speech.

      However bad hate speech can be, it’s never equivalent to actual violence. Close, but never the same.

      Having said that, I take the point that a zealous lawyer can defend any client in any situation. So, as the SG of the country, he’ll probably focus on more serious issues.

      Given the “mission statement” above, that seems to mean defending the status quo. (Is that really the job description?) Seems like a job for an AI, really.

  4. I think and old Starcraft quote says it best:

    Jim Raynor: I can’t believe you’re really going to trust this snake!
    Arcturus Mengsk: Don’t worry, Jim. He’s our snake now.

  5. Verrilli has been No. 3 at the Justice Department since 2009. Along with four other RIAA lawyers. Not to mention the “Internet czar” Susan Crawford. Tom Perrilli, who used to be No. 2 at DoJ, sought to make ISPs give up customers’ info without subpoenas.

    Politics aside, this is clearly the most pro-copyright administration ever.

  6. A farmer placed nets on his newly-sown plowlands and caught a number of Cranes, which came to pick up his seed. With them he trapped a Stork that had fractured his leg in the net and was earnestly beseeching the Farmer to spare his life. “Pray save me, Master,” he said, “and let me go free this once. My broken limb should excite your pity. Besides, I am no Crane, I am a Stork, a bird of excellent character; and see how I love and slave for my father and mother. Look too, at my feathers– they are not the least like those of a Crane.” The Farmer laughed aloud and said, “It may be all as you say, I only know this: I have taken you with these robbers, the Cranes, and you must die in their company.”

    Birds of a feather flock together.

    From a translation by George Fyler Townsend

  7. Just a nit to pick, the Supreme Court in Grokster held that Grokster was responsible for the piracy of its users because it was actively courting its users to pirate music and was advertising its ability to pirate to get new users; advertising itself as the “New Napster”, providing lists of the top 10 downloaded .mp3s and such. The Court made it pretty clear that if they weren’t doing this then the fact that Grokster could be used to download non-copyright material such as distributable software and out-of-copyright works like books in .txt files would protect them from copyright infringement claims.

  8. There is clearly a reason that a significant number of lawyers, not from one area of the law, but from one area of particular legal controversy are being hired by this administration. It is the same reason that so many (ex)lobbyists obtain positions in government and why there are so many former Goldman Sachs employees in the administration.

    Well connected campaign contributors (in this case from the intellectual property industries) support and promote individuals for employment so that when they approach the government seeking new legislation or ACTA related diplomatic activity, they will get a receptive audience. Where do you think these individuals are going to be trying to drum up business when they return to their civilian jobs?

    If this is not the case then such a high proportion of lawyers connected to the intellectual property industries being hired demands some other explanation. It’s not a coincidence.

    The idea that if you object to this you are therefore arguing that all lawyers should be identified with their clients is preposterous and defies basic common sense.

    1. I was not suggesting that there was anything wrong with objecting to lots of lawyers being hired from one particular area of law, whether for nefarious purposes or not. That doesn’t appear to be Cory’s point, nor does it appear to be the point of previous commenters. Cory was pretty overtly making the argument that Verrilli is a bad appointee because he is a “notorious entertainment lawyer.” Maybe Cory was implicitly making the point you suggest by quoting the article, but nothing Cory wrote himself suggests that was his point.

      However, I think the five RIAA lawyer appointments is coincidence. Throw a rock at a Big Law firm, hit a lawyer working on one of these cases. You can argue the administration’s appointments/hiring are too slanted towards Big Law, as opposed to academia, government or the public sector, but I think that has a lot more to do with possibilities of confirmation than with who Obama wants to appoint. (Look at how well Dawn Johnsen worked out for him.)

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