5 notable GCs in the news

GCs sound off on music piracy, inflated credit ratings, a shortage of engineers and more

Ratings Rumble

"The government has not explained where the other $4.5 billion in alleged losses come from."

--Kenneth Vittor, general counsel of McGraw-Hill Cos.

As part of the continuing fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. government is suing Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services (S&P) for $5 billion, accusing the company of ignoring its own quality standards when rating mortgage bonds, many of which subsequently collapsed.

The feds say that S&P, a unit of McGraw-Hill, should pay back billions of dollars for losses suffered by federally insured banks and credit unions in connection with the inflated ratings. But in a conference call Monday, Vittor told investors that the government’s suit enumerates just $500 million in alleged losses.

Spill Saga

“What is clear is that [gross negligence] is a very high bar, and we firmly believe the bar is not met in this case.”

--Rupert Bondy, general counsel of BP

Last fall, BP Plc agreed to pay a record-setting $4.5 billion penalty and plead guilty to 14 criminal counts to settle a portion of the U.S. government’s investigation into the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But the saga is far from over, as both sides prepare for a civil trial slated to start on Monday. Authorities hope to prove that the oil company was guilty of gross negligence, and they’re seeking Clean Water Act (CWA) penalties that could add up to billions of dollars.

BP officials, however, maintain that the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion was an accident, and that part of the blame should go to Transocean, which operated the rig, and Halliburton, which cemented the well.

Preventing Piracy

"Research shows that users trust search engines like Google to lead them to legitimate sites when searching for music, yet Google’s demotion program is not working.”

--Steven Marks, general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)

It’s no easy task to enforce copyright online, where piracy of written works, videos and songs runs rampant. In an effort to crack down on such infringement, Google announced six months ago that it would factor copyright takedown notices into its search algorithm, resulting in lower search results for sites that garnered numerous complaints.

But those efforts haven’t done much to decrease music piracy, according to an RIAA report released Thursday. The industry group found that when it searched for popular songs titles along with words such as “MP3” and “download,” Google’s auto-complete function directed users to alleged pirate sites 88 percent of the time, while legitimate sites such as Amazon and iTunes were demoted in the rankings.

Peeved Publishers

“This bill would waste so much taxpayer money at a time of budgetary crisis, squander federal employees’ time with busywork and require the creation and maintenance of otherwise-unneeded technology.”

--Allan Adler, general counsel of the Association of American Publishers (AAP)

The publishing industry group is speaking out against a new bill that would require federally funded researchers to make their final publications available for free online. Supporters of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act say that it will help increase transparency, and boost collaboration and innovation in the scientific community. But the AAP says that the proposed law would burden federal agencies, and notes that some private-sector companies are already collaborating with researchers to publish scholarly work.

Extra Employees

“The biggest gating factor on the industry’s ability to keep innovating and keep producing more products is the ability to hire more engineers.”

--Brad Smith, general counsel of Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft’s top lawyer is continuing his quest to increase the number of H1-B visas available to companies. According to Smith, the tech titan had more than 3,500 engineering jobs available at the end of last year, but couldn’t find enough U.S. workers to fill those spots. Some companies in the industry are lobbying Congress to release more work visas, which would allow them to temporarily hire foreign workers with specialized skills in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Some out-of-work American programmers, however, remain skeptical that companies such as Microsoft can’t find qualified workers closer to home.

Alanna Byrne

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