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What the 2002 election means for tech

The Republican Party's gains at the polls could be good news for the technology industry--and bad news for a controversial copyright bill.

Republicans captured control of the U.S. Congress late Tuesday, an unexpected victory that is likely to help technology companies, but could thwart controversial digital copyright legislation next year.

The near-final election results suggest that a single party will control the executive and legislative branches, which will reshuffle the Senate leadership and make it easier for President Bush to advance Republican proposals.

When the new session of Congress starts in January, Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., will no longer head the Senate Commerce Committee. Hollings drew the ire of the technology community after introducing a bill that would implant copy-protection technology into all PCs and consumer-electronics devices.

His replacement is likely to be John McCain of Arizona, currently the top Republican on the committee, who has not adopted such a pro-Hollywood stance. During a hearing in March, McCain said he was skeptical of proposals such as Hollings' that "select technological winners and losers and mandate government intervention in the marketplace." A committee chairman has broad authority to convene hearings, invite witnesses and schedule votes on bills.

A scorecard compiled last month by the Information Technology Industry Council said that Senate Republicans voted in accordance with the tech industry's views 84 percent of the time, compared with 65 percent of the time for Democrats. House Democrats received a collective score of 43 percent, according to the tabulated votes, with GOP politicians garnering an 89 percent total score.

Giving up his Judiciary Committee chairmanship, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has introduced a bill to ban "morphed" or virtual child pornography, targeted Microsoft as a predatory monopolist, and opposed amendments to the USA Patriot Act that would have limited Internet surveillance.

The top candidate to succeed him is Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has taken similar positions on those topics. He joined Leahy in trying to outlaw "morphed" porn and opposing the USA Patriot Act amendments championed by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.

Because Utah is home to some Microsoft rivals, Hatch has been a fierce critic of the software maker. "I do not believe the Justice Department would have brought (its antitrust) case unless it was a rather strong one on the merits," Hatch said in a statement supporting the Justice Department's court action. On Friday, a federal judge approved virtually all of a settlement between the company and the Department of Justice.

Like many of his colleagues, Hatch is a fan of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, saying in 1999 that it "laid the cornerstone for a rich and more vibrant Internet." But he's also an amateur songwriter and MP3 fan who once wrote to the judge who was hearing the case against Napster and offered a mild defense. Manus Cooney, a former Hatch aide, became a lobbyist for Napster.

The Republicans managed to retain control of the House, which means that not much will change on that side of Capitol Hill.

One difference is that Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., lost her seat to Democrat Christopher Van Hollen by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent. Morella is a strongly liberal Republican who currently heads a House Science subcommittee that oversees technology-related legislation.