Legislation aimed to reform music licensing laws.

Bowing to the inevitable, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, on Wednesday (Sept. 27) pulled his legislation reforming the nation's music licensing laws from the congressional agenda, saying he didn't see how it could get through Congress.

While Smith claimed to have the votes to win approval of the legislation in the House Judiciary Committee, he said he didn't want to force his colleagues to take a "tough vote" on a bill with little chance for final passage.

The move came as Congress plans to leave Washington this week, giving lawmakers time to hit the campaign trail. While this Congress plans to return for a "lame duck" session after the elections, the controversial bill will have to wait for the next Congress.

Smith's legislation attempted to alter the nation's music licensing regime -- first approved when the player piano was new technology -- in order to make it easier to license music for digital distribution.

While most involved in the many-sided debate -- from the music publishers, labels and songwriters to the consumer electronics makers and the radio, satellite and Internet broadcasters -- recognize the need for reform, there is little consensus on what shape it ought to take.

This lack of consensus would have forced lawmakers to vote against powerful economic interests on one side or the other, and that possibility proved too much for Smith, even though he is the chairman of the copyright subcommittee.

Smith might find his position strengthened next year if the GOP holds onto the House, as he could take over chairmanship of the full Judiciary Committee.

If the Democrats take the House, hopes for licensing reform might still be strengthened because Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would likely chair the full committee.

Smith and Conyers are more interested in copyright law than the current chairman, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who must relinquish control of the committee under GOP's rules.

The chairmanship of the copyright subcommittee would likely fall to Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., if the Republicans hold on. Coble also could take over the full committee, though most insiders feel that Smith has the inside track. Coble has held the position before and has a love affair with the copyright industries.

The likely chair of the copyright subcommittee if the Democrats take over is Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., who also has a strong interest in copyright law and can claim the motion picture industry as a hometown factor.

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