A Georgetown Law Center group presented former U.S. solicitor general Theodore B. Olson with its second annual Lifetime Service Award at the law campus Tuesday, honoring him for his years of public service both within the government and in private legal practice.

Olson was solicitor general of the United States from 2001-04 and Assistant United States Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel from 1981-84.

For his tenure as solicitor general, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded him its Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

Libby Locke, president of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies at the Law Center, said that the society founded the award “as a way for our students to recognize those whose work has demonstrated the principles the society upholds.”

She listed these principles as “believing that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.”

Viet D. Dinh, professor of law at the Law Center, described Olson as “so sprite” that “two-thirds of his work remains to be done.” Remarking that Olson has argued 41 cases before the Supreme Court, including Bush v. Gore as President Bush’s private counsel, the award is “early, but not premature.”

Dinh also spoke of Olson’s influential career as a “strategist, advocate, and scholar.” He emphasized Olson’s commitment to the principle that the “executive be allowed to act with secrecy and dispatch,” referencing his argument as former president Reagan’s private counsel that Reagan should not be made to expose his private diaries.

Olson said he supported the Federalist Society’s promotion of “vigorous and insightful debate” into today’s legal issues, particularly in the nation’s law schools.

He recalled being impressed by the “impetus and energy and creativity of students” in the first Federalist Society conference organized and run by students at Yale University in the early 1980s.

Although he said that he found it “a little disquieting” to receive a lifetime achievement award, which usually indicates that a person is “constructively dead, the legal equivalent of toast,” Olson emphasized that he is “just getting started,” and focused the rest of his speech on the impending oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the case MGM v. Grokster, scheduled for Mar. 29.

According to Olson, who has filed the arguments on behalf of a citizen group which defends property rights, the case will decide whether for-profit Internet enterprises designed explicitly for copyright infringement, such as Grokster and Kazaa, are “knowingly aiding and abetting unlawful activity.”

Olson said the “broad coalition” urging the Supreme Court to hold such enterprises accountable includes government officials, values groups and members of the music and entertainment communities.

Olson said that over 90 percent of Internet file-sharing program use is for copyright violation and that 85 million copyrighted songs are illegally downloaded every day by 2.7 million users. He said that the practices of several file-sharing companies, which are intentionally unaware of what songs are being downloaded at a particular time, constitutes “willful blindness,” which is considered knowledge in the legal system.

Olson said that the Rehnquist Supreme Court has shown increased sensitivity to property rights and emphasized that intellectual property was “particularly valuable” to the framers of the Constitution. According to Olson, copyright and patent protection have encouraged innovation and helped establish the United States’ economy as the most vibrant economy in the world for two centuries.

He said that music and entertainment purchases account for 6 percent of the U.S. gross national product, provide jobs for 5.5 million workers and are the second biggest export from the United States. Olson also said that attempts to enforce United States copyrights will have “no credibility abroad” if they cannot be enforced within the country.

“At its core,” Olson said, “the debate returns to `Thou shalt not steal.’ Just as property owners must be protected from overstepping by the government, the government must protect intellectual private property. This protection is the key to the greatest liberty for all of us.”

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