Friday, August 19, 2011

State of the Net West Meeting With Rep. Bob Goodlatte

On Tuesday I attended a "Technology Town Hall Roundtable" event with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a member of the Congressional Internet Caucus. The web site for these "State of the Net West" events is here.

The event was very well attended (over 100 people were in the audience).  Eric Goldman of Santa Clara Law School served as a moderator.  Rep. Goodlatte was well-informed about a number of Internet-related issues.  He showed an impressive depth and breadth of knowledge of the issues, as well as a willingness to listen.  Rep. Goodlatte mentioned 7 or so issues he was interested in: patent reform, rogue websites, Internet taxes, protecting IP, broadband, clean energy, and workforce issues.  Of most interest were the following comments:

1.  So-called "PROTECT-IP" Act:  Rep. Goodlatte said that the purpose of this bill is to attack "rogue websites" that have the sole purpose of selling counterfeit goods (including physical goods like shoes, not just media files).  Rep. Goodlatte said that the current bill is a Senate bill, and that the House is working on legislation "that is more sensitive" to 1st Amendment issues and the "needs of law abiding businesses."  He said that the House version will be "quite different" and will likely be criticized by both the entertainment industry as well as the tech industry.  A draft is expected be available in the next few weeks.

I asked Rep. Goodlatte about the technical and legal objections to the Senate bill, and he agreed to take copies of the Crocker et al. technical whitepaper and the Lemely et al. law professor's letter I had brought with me (Eric Goldman, the moderator, co-signed this letter).  He obviously didn't promise to do anything, but said the House would hold hearings and listen to people who want to talk about this bill.

So it's good news that the House isn't just going to rubber stamp the Senate bill.  Both Mike Masnick of Techdirt and Larry Downes of CNET attended and have since published posts discussing possible changes to the Senate bill.  (Downes' post omits one additional change I would like to see: to fix item No. 1 in the law professor's letter, by requiring notice and a hearing before a domain name can be seized.)

2. Rep. Goodlatte identified two bills that he thought would pass soon (as compared to other Internet-related bills that weren't likely to pass soon).  The first was the patent reform bill (no surprise there). In response to a question by an patent attorney who claimed to represent small inventors, Rep. Goodlatte said that he actually thought that first-to-file will benefit small companies and inventors, who are more nimble than large companies and can file more quickly.

Since I had used up my one question asking about the so-called PROTECT-IP act, I was unable to ask Rep. Goodlatte about the PTO fee diversion issue, which is a main difference between the House and Senate bills.

Second, there is a bill to better define when Internet companies are subject to corporate and income taxes in states where they do some small amount of business but aren't their residence.  (The bill does not apply to sales taxes).  Rep. Goodlatte said this was likely to pass.
There will be three other "State of the Net West" meetings coming up, with Reps. Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren and Marsha Blackburn

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