With a House Judiciary subcommittee expected to consider key legislation including overhauling copyright law and net neutrality protections in the next Congress the new leader of the panel could either complicate or ease passage of the legislation.
The gavel for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property is up for grabs next year.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who serves as chairman of the subcommittee and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is due to give up his subcommittee post. [IMGCAP(1)]
Berman moved to the top spot of the Foreign Affairs panel after Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) died in February; House rules made an exception to allow him to hold both chairmanships through the end of the session.
Under Democratic rules, committee chairmen have latitude in assigning subcommittee chairmanships, which are usually based on seniority.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) has not revealed his strategy for choosing the subcommittees next chairman, but if seniority is the linchpin, then Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who was considered to be in the running for the job the last time around, is the top contender.
Its not something the chairman has commented on, a Judiciary Committee aide said.
Boucher, in his 13th term in Congress, is a leading advocate of the fair use doctrine, which would grant legal protections against copyright violations to electronics producers so they can roll out new technologies to manipulate digital content.
Moreover, Boucher is pushing a bill, the FAIR USE Act, that would expand the fair use doctrine and limit the liability of consumer electronics makers and clear the way for consumers to copy and edit works in certain circumstances.
Boucher is a foe of entertainment industry lobby groups, who are critical of his copyright policy stance and who fear that his measure would gut copyright protections for their content and effectively legalize hacking devices.
Boucher is a founding member of the Congressional Internet Caucus, serves as one of two House co-chairman of a bicameral group focused on Internet policy and technology, and also serves on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
Boucher has also backed network neutrality and a plan to use the Universal Service Fund to pay for rural broadband connections. Others suspect that Boucher could help facilitate compromise on a patent system overhaul bill that has been held up in the Senate.
Other members on the Judiciary Committee that could be eyeing the subcommittee leadership spot include Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who both serve on the Congressional Internet Caucus as well.
On the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, Lofgren, now in her seventh term, has been helping to craft legislation on net neutrality as well as digital piracy.
Along with Conyers, she sponsors the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act, which takes a punitive approach to broadband networks that discriminate against users. The bill authorizes possible injunctive relief and fines on Internet service providers for not following nondiscrimination guidelines.
Lofgren is a co-sponsor of Bouchers FAIR USE Act and also sponsors the Benefit Authors without Limiting Advancement or Net Consumer Expectations, also known as the BALANCE Act, which would clarify that fair use principles apply to analog and digital transmissions.
Nadlers aide wouldnt confirm whether hes seeking the post but said hes not ruling anything out.
Nadler, in his ninth term in Congress, serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Nadler supports net-neutrality principles and patent reform, which will also be big issues for the subcommittee in the new Congress.