Berman in line after Lantos' death


The death of Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., likely will trigger a congressional reshuffling that will have implications for the entertainment industry.

Lantos' death Monday from esophageal cancer at age 80 leaves an opening at the top of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The next in line to chair the prestigious panel is Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's copyright subcommittee.

Berman's passion for foreign affairs and the chance to become a full committee chairman are likely to overwhelm his desire to remain chairman of the copyright subcommittee, where he has been a steward of the entertainment industry. Under Democratic rules, one lawmaker cannot chair a committee and another committee's subcommittee.

Succession is less clear at the copyright subcommittee as the next in line there is Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va. Boucher is a long-term advocate of expanding the ability of people to use copyrighted material for free. Although Boucher is an industry opponent, he also chairs the House Commerce Committee's energy subcommittee — an important panel in his coal-rich district.

It is unclear whether Boucher will take the copyright subcommittee or stay in his current post. Party rules prevent him from chairing subcommittees on two separate committees.

Next in line would be Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democrat whose 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.

It is unclear whether Nadler wants that job; his aides and those of the other lawmakers involved declined comment on the shuffle.

Spokeswoman Lynne Weil said Lantos, a Californian, died early Monday at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Maryland. At his side were his wife, Annette, two daughters and many of his 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Annette Lantos said that her husband's life was "defined by courage, optimism and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family."

As a teenager, Lantos twice escaped from a Nazi-run forced labor camp in Hungary and became the only Holocaust survivor to win a seat in Congress.

Meanwhile, one of the bills Berman was shepherding through Congress would force broadcasters to pay royalties to performers and record labels. Currently only songwriters and publishers are compensated for airplay. The bill is much sought after by the recording industry.

Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow mentioned the bill during the Grammy broadcast Sunday night.

"This year, we will fight to pass legislation to once and for all ensure that, just like in every other developed country in the world, all music creators are compensated for their performances when played on traditional radio," Portnow said.

Berman's departure from the subcommittee's chairmanship doesn't kill the bill. Full committee chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., is a big industry supporter, and Berman still will be a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Having a chairman of the subcommittee who counts show business as a hometown industry made it easier for the copyright industry to get its way at a critical juncture in the congressional process.