1. You’ve been a longtime supporter of issues affecting the film and television industry. In what way do you think the industry is important to the country?
Obviously it has great educational, cultural and entertainment value. But it also has a huge impact on the economy; hundreds of thousands of Americans are employed by the film and television industry. And many more jobs and businesses are impacted when films are made in communities all over the country, including in my congressional district. A number of well-known films have been filmed in the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia, including War of the Worlds and Gods and Generals. So taking all this into consideration, it’s extremely important that intellectual property be protected, because it’s critical to protecting these jobs. You can’t pay for these very expensive films if the people who view them don’t pay to watch them.
2. What role do you think film and television play in American culture and communicating that to the rest of the world?
Well, it gets people thinking about what’s going on in the world around them and exposes them to ideas and events they might not otherwise be exposed to. And it shares the culture and values of this country with people everywhere. Of course, different films convey different messages, but the films that I like are ones that inspire people around the world to think that
America has ideals and values they’d like to see emulated in their country: freedom, democracy, economic opportunity and hope.
3. You were a strong backer of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which failed to move forward after parts of the Internet community launched an unprecedented campaign to oppose that legislation. What lessons can be drawn from the public’s reaction?
There’s no question there was a strong public reaction to that legislation. SOPA and the Protect IP Piracy Act (PIPA), its Senate counterpart, are dead. There was a lot of misinformation about the legislation; about it denying free speech rights to Americans, censoring the Internet, or even causing the Internet to collapse. That was definitely not the case. We listened to a great many folks with many, many different points of view, and worked to change it. But now I think the problem still persists and we’re going to have to look to a number of different avenues to address this serious job-killing problem.
4. Do you still think that legislation remains a path to protecting intellectual property?
I think if we’re going to move forward legislatively, we have to take all of the various points of view, all of the various interested parties, groups of people, businesses, and do what was done when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was created a dozen or so years ago. That is to put them in a room together, have them talk to each other and find more common ground, things that they could agree upon. I think only then we’ll be in a position to consider new ways to address crime on the Internet.
5. Will the power of the Internet change the way legislation is created in the future?
I think everyone who works on legislative issues, whether they’re in Congress or whether they are an individual or business that is affected by legislation, which is to say everybody, needs to be cognizant of the fact that the means by which people share information is very different today than it was when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was written. Making sure that misinformation is countered rapidly and thoroughly and extensively on the Internet, and making sure that people with a wide array of different points of view are able to share those points of view as legislation is developed, those are things that Congress and everyone else interested in legislation need to be aware of and accomplish in a better way.
6. You’ve said there isn’t a single issue related to technology that isn’t bipartisan. Given the overall political climate, how difficult is it to find bipartisan support for cyber security and intellectual property enforcement in Congress?
I really don’t think it is difficult. The legislation that we’ve just been talking about didn’t fail because it wasn’t bipartisan. It was very bipartisan. It failed because of other reasons. We’ve addressed a whole host of other cyber-security issues, and each one of them, in my opinion, has significant bipartisan support. That’s not to say that everybody agrees with proposed changes in intellectual property laws, but the divides are not based upon whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. They’re based upon other factors that generally don’t get reflected in the political lineup of both parties. There are reasons for people, no matter what their political philosophy, to protect the creative juices of directors, motion picture companies, songwriters and performers. We want to encourage that, and I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement that we want to encourage people to be creative and to reward them for their creativity. That’s a bipartisan thing.
7. China is clearly an expanding market for American entertainment. What needs to be done to protect our intellectual property there?
As a member and co-chair of the Congressional Anti-Piracy Caucus, I think it’s important to closely monitor the serious problems of copyright piracy in countries like China. I think we need to continue to work with the Chinese government to stress the importance of intellectual property protections. I guarantee you that virtually every film created in America is playing in China; the question is whether it’s playing legally. And the best way to assure this is to allow the legitimate creators of the business to display their own films and be there working with the government of China to crack down on criminal activities. The United States government should be playing a much stronger role and have a much greater presence in China. I don’t think we have very many folks there from the U.S. Department of Commerce, checking to make sure that legitimate U.S. businesses are being treated fairly by the Chinese government and in the Chinese marketplace.
8. We noticed you have a Twitter account. Do you use it much?
Sure I do. I have several thousand Twitter followers, and it’s a great way to communicate with my constituents, as is Facebook and some other social media outlets. Social media has made it possible for elected officials to communicate directly in real time with their constituents. I think it’s a good thing, and has made it easier for Americans to be involved in the political process. But it’s important to be aware that information gets spread through many forms of communication. Social media can accelerate that spread. It’s very important for people to understand that what they read and hear on the Internet needs to be double-checked to make sure that they’re getting the truth about things, because it can be deliberately misleading.
9. Do you have any thoughts on how politicians and the world of Washington are portrayed in film and television?
I think in order to create dramatic effect and more interesting storylines, the day-to-day work of elected officials—of listening to their constituents, working on the details of legislation, holding hearings, and debating issues on the floor—is put aside for the more dramatic events. And this is true not just in politics; it’s true in almost any sector of our society portrayed on film. The more dramatic moments tend to be portrayed and sometimes their importance is exaggerated. Sometimes the portrayer can get carried away and suggest that everybody in a particular area of work—perhaps especially elected officials—are portrayed in unfavorable lights. I think this is unfortunate because one of the great things about film is it has the opportunity to inspire people, particularly young people, to want to work in particular areas and do great things and help people. If you portray elected officials as being corrupt or craven and not basically trying to do good, then you can have a negative impact on the respect that the public has for their political institutions. So that’s something that’s a concern, and something that directors should keep in mind when they make films. It’s important that the message be one that inspires people to be involved in the political process.
10. Do you have a favorite political film?
Well, I go back a long ways to an old favorite, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, because it does [what I was talking about]. It inspires people to believe that they can make a difference. A representative in Washington can champion a cause for the people back home and stare down the forces of adversity, the overwhelming odds, and to prevail and get something good accomplished—and that’s what that movie’s about. However, I have to also say that two days ago I went to the theater and I saw another film that was a good political film as well; it’s a documentary, and that’s 2016: Obama’s America. The theater was almost full when I was there on a late afternoon matinee and it definitely caused a lot of people to stay in the theater and discuss what they had just seen. And that’s good film work as well.