Watt’s confirmation would open key IP slot

Watt’s confirmation would open key IP slot

Watt’s confirmation would open key IP slot
By Alex Byers

The House intellectual property subcommittee is preparing to undertake a massive examination — and quite possibly, revision — of the nation’s copyright laws just as the panel’s top Democrat may be headed for the exit.

President Barack Obama has tapped Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as his nominee to lead the Federal Housing Finance Authority. While the IP subcommittee-ranking member has a long way to go before Senate confirmation, his nomination raises the possibility of a new Democratic leadership shuffle. The move would reopen all of the panel’s leadership slots with members getting their pick based on seniority.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) would be first in line for the top spot — and while he previously chose to lead the minority on the Constitution subcommittee, he told POLITICO a move wouldn’t be out of the question.

“I’d have to very seriously consider it,” he said.

That’s a development that would likely please content companies, as Nadler is widely seen as a friend to the music industry. Last year he circulated a bill to boost compensation for recording artists by changing the royalty rate structure.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) also would be a candidate to take over the subpanel, given that she’s currently directly behind Watt in seniority. Her ascension could prompt cheers from the tech industry and boos from content companies — her Digital Millennium Copyright Act reform bill, for example, is likely to displease copyright incumbents.

She currently serves as ranking member on the immigration subcommittee, a subject to which she has devoted more than her lion’s share of time this session. For instance, Lofgren left a copyright hearing early Thursday to help finalize a key immigration deal. She declined to comment for this story.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) would be next in the pecking order. She doesn’t have a ranking member spot on a Judiciary subpanel but is the lead Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee’s border security subcommittee. She didn’t hint at whether she’d be interested at taking the IP panel’s Democratic reins.

“All of us who are on the committee are very interested in the issue,” she said. “My focus is the confirmation of Mr. Watt.”

Other Democrats to watch: Rep. Bobby Scott (Va.) would have a shot but indicated to POLITICO that it wasn’t on his radar, and Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) would have dibs after Jackson Lee — but he’d have to forgo his leadership spot on the antitrust subcommittee to make the move.

It’s worth noting that Watt’s confirmation is far from a done deal. Senate Republicans aren’t a fan of the North Carolina congressman, and they’ve been keen to keep acting FHFA Director Edward DeMarco in place. Obama’s previous nominee to permanently fill the slot, Joseph Smith, ended up withdrawing his nomination in the face of GOP stonewalling.

But should Watt get through, his vacated leadership slot would be highly sought-after with copyright reform looking to draw out over the next several years.

“The IP subcommittee is the ‘it’ girl of policy making in the tech world, and we hope to see a leader who will keep an open door to owners’ rights,” said Andrew Shore, Owners’ Rights Initiative executive director.

Should Watt get confirmed and no subcommittee shuffle occurs, the IP slot would likely fall to the top Judiciary Democrat without a leadership post: Georgia’s Hank Johnson. A Johnson aide said the lawmaker, who previously chaired a subcommittee on the courts — which is a component of the current IP subcommittee — is seriously interested in the post.

Source: Politico Pro, May 17, 2013

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