Berman to exit copyright role


A change in the California delegation will have an impact on the copyright industry's agenda on Capitol Hill as Rep. Howard Berman likely will relinquish his role as head of the House copyright subcommittee.

The decision of Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., to retire opens up the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to Berman, but moving will mean that he has to give up the House Judiciary Committee's intellectual property subcommittee. Lantos retired after he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Aides to Berman said they wanted to avoid hurting Lantos' feelings but admitted that Berman would like the Foreign Affairs job.

"Upon Mr. Lantos' departure from Congress, Howard plans to assume the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee with the support of the committee and other members of Congress," a senior Democratic aide said.

The subcommittee is the gateway for copyright law changes and Berman has been sympathetic to the copyright industry's plight, whether it's illegal downloading or the push to win a performance royalty for radio.

Everyone in the House wants to be a full-committee chairman, as it's one of the most powerful positions in the government. Berman also has a love for foreign affairs, so it would be an enticing match.

Next in line is Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., who has been one of the copyright industry's biggest foes, taking the side of consumer electronics makers and other traditional detractors.

But it is unclear whether Boucher would take the panel, as he chairs the Commerce Committee's energy and air quality subcommittee. Caucus rules prohibit one person from chairing two major subcommittees. Boucher may decide that his backyard interests predominate, and it is more important to remain chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the coal industry which is a significant economic player in his district.

Calls to Boucher on Monday were unreturned.

Next in line after Boucher would be Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. Nadler's district includes most of Manhattan's Upper West Side, parts of Clinton, Chelsea, SoHo, Greenwich Village, Tribeca and downtown Manhattan — areas dotted with entertainment industry operations.

Entertainment industry lobbyists concede that a subcommittee run by Boucher would have a reordered set of priorities, but they point out that the full committee is still run by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., one of the industry's biggest allies.

"As long as Conyers is still there, I don't see much different coming out of the committee," one lobbyist said. "It could be more difficult, but we have a compelling story."