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HP Settlement Pays for IP Enforcement–What’s the Connection?

December 8, 2006 ,

The California Attorney General just announced a $14.5 million settlement with Hewlett-Packard for its use of pretexting, a type of fraud, to spy on its board members and journalists who were reporting on internal strife at the company. Nothing so surprising there–the investigation has been going on for a while, and there was no question as to wrongdoing on the part of HP leadership. What's interesting, though, is where that money is going. According to the settlement agreement and the AG's own press release, $13.5 million is going to create a new “Privacy and Piracy Fund,” which will finance “law enforcement activities related to privacy and intellectual property rights.”

Now, I'd be the first to note that there are intrinsic links between privacy and copyright law and policy, but more often than not, this link comes about because overzealous, self-appointed copyright cops are all too willing to invade users' privacy: installing spyware on computers; lobbying for personal information to be web-accessible before registering a domain; and defeating laws that would specifically target actions like HP's pretexting.

For actual law enforcement organizations, intellectual property protection is too often equated merely with protecting the revenues of major IP holders, without taking into account the fact that end-users and consumers also have rights–like the right to their informational privacy, the right to private uses of media, and the right to expect that media they buy will not only work in their devices, but that it won't spy on them or break their security.

This massive new fund came about because the AG saw the need to protect individuals' privacy rights, not because they brought to heel some guys putting DVDs on iPods. Let's hope that the AG remembers that when it comes time to spend all this money.