Wednesday’s Internet “blackout” by many leading Internet companies — including Google, Wikipedia, and Wired.com, among others — brought widespread public attention to online piracy legislation being considered on Capitol Hill and satisfaction to at least one leading lobbyist as it appeared to cause a further scramble among lawmakers in both the House and Senate.
“We’re seeing members of Congress drop off these bills like rats drop off a ship,” Markham Erickson, lead counsel for dozens of major Internet and technology companies in the Open Internet Coalition and Netcoalition.com, stated late Wednesday.
Erickson, cofounder of the lobbying firm Holch & Erickson, has built a career in part by becoming an expert on an array of copyright and telecommunications issues, among others, that about 20 years ago only a few legal experts had a vague notion might help build the centerpiece of laws and regulations of a wide field of Internet and technology businesses.
Interviewed in recent months by many major newspapers and networks — including ABC News, PBS NewsHour and CNN — he has expressed concern that bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and the Protect IP Act introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would reverse “decades of federal policies that have made the U.S. Internet industry so successful, innovative and a cornerstone of U.S. competitiveness.” Both bills would aim to control copyright infringement by essentially barring sites and search engines from linking to foreign web sites that offer pirated music, movies and other content and barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with such sites.
Erickson feels a bit of a pride in authorship of many existing laws addressing Internet businesses, he expressed to First Street. After graduating from George Washington University Law School in 1993 and going to work for McGuiness & Holch, Erickson, as the junior attorney, was tossed the cases of small startup technology and Internet companies. He helped businesses such as Netscape and AOL “navigate to a place where they could become successful,” he said, and became an expert in “what was a small pond.” In the process, he was involved in helping draft and negotiate language in laws that would apply to the Internet, including the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the very same law some companies contend would be damaged by legislation like SOPA).
As the Internet grew, so did his expertise in such areas as net neutrality, copyright, and privacy. And his client list and billings grew. He helped over time form the two Internet coalitions and now serves as executive director for both. In 1998, he helped form Netcoalition.com, which now represents various Internet and technology companies, including Yahoo, Bloomberg, Amazon and Wikepedia. As the coalition’s lead counsel, he has a broad mandate to keep watch on policies and laws to ensure they protect the interests of Internet companies. In the first three quarters of 2011, Netcoalition.com paid Erickson more than $130,000 to lobby Congress and the administration on such telecommunications issues as Internet liability, intellectual property, and commercial database privacy.
In 2005, he helped form the Open Internet Coalition, representing a variety of Internet businesses, including Google, eBay, Amazon.com, Skype and YouTube. Erickson has focused primarily on the net neutrality issues and rules for the coalition.
Six years ago, Erickson and his colleague Niels Holch opened up their own practice. While Erickson focuses much of his time on Internet and technology issues, both he and Holch also have built their business with their expertise in another area: Native American issues. Erickson said that, as a new lawyer, he had represented the business efforts of Indian tribes when they were struggling to find a way out of poverty. He has since represented the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (Oregon) on off-reservation gaming issues, the United Auburn Indian Community (California) on Internet gaming issues, and the Oneida Nation of Indiana on gaming issues, law enforcement, health and housing issues.
Erickson said, over the years, he has seen Indian tribes successfully pull themselves from poverty “to become very successful entrepreneurs.” The Oneida Nation of Indians opened its first gambling casino, Turning Stone, in 1993 and soon became wealthy operating gambling businesses around the state. It now is the third-largest employer in the 16 counties that comprise Central New York, behind Cornell University and the State University Health System, according to the Albany, N.Y. Times Union. In 2006, Oneida Nation paid Erickson $440,000 to lobby on Indian gaming legislation, according to First Street data.
The two seemingly divergent areas of interests — Internet business and Native American issues — have a commonality only in that they require him to maintain an expertise on narrow areas of law that are complicated and challenging, he said.
Erickson has lobbied a variety of other interests as well. In 2008, he represented Puerto Rico Industrial Development Corporation to lobby on a bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code to make Puerto Rico residents eligible for the earned income tax credit. The corporation paid Erickson $200,000 that year.
Erickson’s partner Holch also lobbies on such issues as securities regulations and energy and environmental concerns. Holch holds some connections to Capitol Hill, having formerly served as chief of staff and legislative director to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, now Senate minority leader. And recently Erickson has come to rely on another addition to the firm and a new “revolving door” lobbyist — Erik Stallman, who until January 2011 served as chief technology counsel to House Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.