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Judge Ruling on Copyright Law Used to Be a Lobbyist for RIAA

beryl howellLast week, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell issued a ruling that would make it easier for copyright holders to obtain personal information on anyone suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted files. The verdict was met with complaints from ISPs and consumer rights groups, with many arguing that it would allow copyright holders to pursue frivolous lawsuits in the hopes of striking lucrative settlement deals. Perhaps more troubling than Howell's ruling, however, is her resume.

Before being appointed as a federal judge, Howell served as General Counsel of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where she helped draft the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the No Electronic Theft Act, and other intellectual property laws. She also used to work as the Executive Managing Director and General Counsel at a consulting firm called Stroz Friedberg. Said firm specializes in digital crime, and is well-versed in the technology used to trace and identify file sharers. More recently, though, Stroz Friedberg has begun lobbying on behalf of the RIAA -- and that's where Howell's objectivity could be called into question.

Working for the RIAA earned Stroz Friedberg more than $500,000 -- and it helped pad Howell's paycheck, too. As one of the firm's top lobbyists, she received $415,000 from 2004 to 2008. (She left the company in 2009.) TorrentFreak suggests that Howell's corporate past may taint her objectivity on the bench: "As a lobbyist there was only so much Howell could do, but as a U.S. District Court Judge she can really make a difference it seems."

Opening the floodgates of copyright infringement cases would likely help Howell's former employer. Next month, Stroz Friedberg is hosting a lecture on how "specialized forensic processes" can help track down "infringing copies of protected music." It's impossible to say whether or not Howell made her decision with Stroz Friedberg in mind, but it's easy to see why some skeptics are voicing concerns.

Tags: BerylHowell, bittorrent, ConflictOfInterest, copyright, CopyrightInfringement, court, filesharing, IllegalDownloads, judges, lawsuit, lobbyists, objectivity, politics, riaa, StrozFriedberg, top, Web