In January 2012, the online world was ablaze with news that Congress was taking up controversial legislation intended to address internet piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), but which critics derided for giving the government even more powers to shut down content providers and force major online companies, such as Google, Yahoo and others to block content. The bill was introduced by then-House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), and had a number of prominent co-sponsors.
One of the major efforts against the bill was the largest online protest in history, with thousands of website going dark on January 18th, including Wikipedia – one of the most visited websites on the internet. In response to these protests, the bill was pulled within days and never came up again for consideration.
But what a difference a year and a new Congress makes.
The new House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the former chairman of the House Judiciary Intellectual Property subcommittee and one of the co-sponsors of SOPA last year, has taken the extraordinary step of rehiring one of the chief architects of SOPA from the K Street entertainment lobby, signaling a possible resurrection of SOPA from its legislative grave.
In December 2011, just as SOPA was coming up for markup in the House Judiciary Committee, one of the top committee staffers and advocates for SOPA, Allison Halataei, resigned from her job as deputy chief counsel and parliamentarian for the committee to take a position as vice president of government affairs for the National Music Publishers Association.
But just over a year later, Hill sources say that Halataei has returned to her former position as Deputy Chief Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee. Halataei’s husband, Andrew, serves as the director of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council.
Another sign, according to these sources, is that another former House Judiciary Democrat staffer, Stacey Dansky, vice president of government relations for Viacom, has been on the Hill recently promising members and staffers that a new bill is forthcoming – meaning in Hillspeak that industry attorneys are currently drafting the new bill. Prior to her departure in 2010, Dansky was the committee’s Chief Copyright Counsel when the Democrats controlled the House and the committee.
After SOPA’s inglorious death last year, another senior House Judiciary staffer and co-architect of SOPA with Halataei, Sean McLaughlin, jumped ship as Chief of Staff for the committee to take a job as a lobbyist for the Podesta Group, where he pushes technology and intellectual property legislation for the lobbying firm’s clients ($27 million in lobbying income for 2012), which include Vivendi/Universal Music Group and Oracle.
Curiously, with Halataei’s return to the committee another former staffer-turned entertainment industry lobbyist has taken her place at the National Music Publishers Association. Chris Cylke, who left as director of federal government affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America (one of the top corporate backers of SOPA) was the former deputy parliamentarian for the House Judiciary Committee until 2008 before he left to be the manager of the anti-counterfeiting and piracy initiative for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
So another legislative round over SOPA (probably under some other bill title) appears in the offing. While the personnel are changing chairs on the pro-SOPA side, they are positioning to take another run at it my Hill sources say. Whether tech companies, human rights groups and the online communities who rose up in opposition last year to successfully derail SOPA are ready for another fight remains to be seen.
If anything this episode shows that as long as there is money behind an effort, the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street ensures that legislation never truly dies.