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The nominee for a top intellectual property job faced questions from senators Wednesday about how the Obama administration will fight piracy even as it favors minimal restrictions on the Internet. Victoria Espinel, a Washington consultant and former Covington & Burling associate, would be the federal government’s first ever “intellectual property enforcement coordinator” if she is confirmed. Congress created the position last year, responding to concerns from filmmakers, music companies and other content producers about how to reduce copyright and trademark infringement, especially across international borders. One of the job’s main responsibilities is to coordinate policy across the many federal agencies with an interest in intellectual property. At Espinel’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., referenced proposed “net neutrality” rules before the Federal Communications Commission that would restrict how Internet service providers manage the flow of content. “How should regulations balance the need to stop piracy with then need to protect the free flow of information on the Internet?” Franken asked. Espinel, without getting into specifics, said there was no need for balance between the two. “Openness doesn’t apply to unlawful conduct,” she said. Pressed by Franken and by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., she said the administration would try to find consensus to accomplish both goals. Committee members will likely vote within weeks on Espinel’s nomination, which has not been controversial and which drew accolades from industry groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America. Her position would be housed within the White House Office of Management and Budget, and she would be required to report to Congress annually. Espinel focused on intellectual property as an assistant United States trade representative from 2005 to 2007 and is now on contract with Romulus Global Issues Management, a consulting firm. She is a former visiting assistant professor at George Mason University School of Law. The Judiciary Committee also heard from four nominees for federal judgeships, including Louis Butler Jr., a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who drew nationwide attention when his 2008 opponent ran a TV ad involving a sex offender. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the committee’s top Republican, criticized one of Butler’s rulings allowing a product liability suit to move forward, and he questioned Butler about the 2008 defeat. “Your record was examined and criticized and you were defeated by a 2:1 margin, as I understand it,” Sessions said. “How would you explain the circumstances of that?” “Actually, senator, the margin was 51 percent to 49 percent,” Butler replied. He added that the best explanation of his defeat is that, “after 16 years on the bench, I may be a better judge than politician.” Feingold then jumped to Butler’s defense. “Losing 51-49 is not exactly a mark of shame,” he said. “The founding fathers did not say, ‘If you lost a popular election in the past, you are disqualified from being a federal judge.’”

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