Congress' year-end parting shots at Big Tech
As Congress rushes to pass giant year-end funding bills, some members are taking last shots at the tech industry's giants by tacking on a range of measures the industry opposes.
The big picture: These funding bills are a favorite vehicle for advancing causes unrelated to government spending. This year, beating up on tech companies is a popular one — not just with Congress but with President Trump, who has campaigned relentlessly for legislators to use a must-pass defense spending bill to repeal a key tech-industry liability protection.
Driving the news: Lawmakers are looking to include a trio of intellectual property measures in an omnibus funding bill that would keep the federal government up and running, industry and Hill sources familiar with deliberations told Axios. The push is raising alarms in the tech sector.
- The CASE Act would set up a small-claims board within the Copyright Office to hear copyright infringement complaints. The tech industry fiercely opposes the measure over concerns that it will introduce an avalanche of new infringement complaints.
- The Trademark Modernization Act would, among other things, let third parties submit evidence to nudge the Patent Office to reject trademark applications in the name of cutting down on fraud.
- The third proposal, from Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material a felony, the sources said.
What they're saying: "This backroom deal to empower copyright and trademark trolls as part of a must-pass bill would have sweeping negative consequences for the entire internet ecosystem," said Mike Lemon, senior director of federal government affairs for tech trade group the Internet Association.
- IA and several other groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, NetChoice and Lincoln Network, sent a letter to congressional leaders Friday opposing the inclusion of the measures in the spending bill.
- The ACLU opposes including the CASE Act in the funding bill, warning in a letter Monday that some changes need to be made to the legislation.
The other side: "I wouldn’t characterize any of these as 'techlash' or a way to get back at Big Tech," a Hill aide familiar with the matter said. "These are just things that the creative community or copyright community want. At the end of the day, they wouldn’t really hurt platforms, they would just change the laws for people abusing them."
The intrigue: The copyright clash comes just as Silicon Valley looked poised to avert a more existential threat to the industry from President Trump.
- Last-minute maneuvering meant to appease President Donald Trump's demand to repeal a prized online liability shield as part of the National Defense Authorization Act alarmed tech companies and their allies.
Yes, but: Senators ultimately refused to include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the bill, which keeps the military funded and soldiers paid.
- Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the bill in response, but both chambers almost certainly have enough votes to override a veto if it comes to that. Just a handful of lawmakers, including GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Josh Hawley, have sided with Trump on the matter.
Between the lines: Like the omnibus spending bill, the NDAA is becoming a Christmas tree for a wide range of legislative priorities.
- That includes tech and telecom measures less likely to rankle industry players, such a bill from Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R-S.D.) meant to improve wireless emergency alerts and explore ways of alerting the public to emergencies through streaming services.
The state of play: The year-end push on funding could stretch into next week as lawmakers mull a one-week stopgap bill, according to The Washington Post.