In 2004, Hatch backed measures intended to ratchet up both criminal and civil crackdowns on people who illegally share protected songs and other media over services like Kazaa. He was also the prime mover behind the "Induce Act," the bill that kept industry lobbyists locked in a cold room well into October.
Modern peer-to-peer services like Kazaa, eDonkey and BearShare dodge liability for their customers' rampant piracy by decentralizing their networks and abandoning the ability to control what files their customers trade with one another. The Induce Act aimed to close that loophole by making it illegal for a company to profit by "inducing" people to violate copyright. The problem, according to opponents of the measure, was that Induce could be interpreted to target popular, legal devices like Apple's iPod.
"It's not clear to me what [Specter's] positions are on these issues but I think he's generally going to be a little more balanced. Hatch has really been an unabashed friend of the content industry and Specter has no such record," said Gigi Sohn, the president of Washington-based Public Knowledge.
Wherever Specter comes down on the copyright debate, it's an issue that will almost certainly take a back seat to other matters, at least at the outset of his chairmanship, former Specter staffers said.
"What he's going to care the most about are the judicial nominations, with asbestos and class action coming [second and third]. Those are the issues that for the first six months are going to be taking the lion's share of his time," a former Specter staffer said. Like many of the former congressional aides interviewed for this story, the staffer still works in politics and asked to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize his relationship with the committee.
When he does come to grips with the copyright debate, Specter is unlikely to be too heavily swayed by what his predecessors have done, said David Urban, managing director of lobbying firm American Continental Group and a former aide to the senator.
"Everything is on the table. Everything is going to get a fresh look. Everything within the purview of the committee, he's going to take a big interest in," Urban said of Specter. "He's very deliberative. He wades in up to his chest in all the details. He's a guy who really likes to know all the subject matter."
Urban and other Specter staffers said it would be very like the senator to invite all the combatants in the copyright debate up to his office before he settled on any stance.
But while opponents of the recording industry may be salivating at the prospect of starting the Senate debate from scratch, sources familiar with Hatch doubt the outgoing chairman will cede his copyright role that easily.
"To the extent that people think ... the center of power over intellectual property issues will shift from Senator Hatch to Senator Specter, they may be quite mistaken," said a former judiciary staffer who now lobbies on behalf of copyright owners.