Chris Dodd takes MPAA agenda to DNC

Former senator plays diplomat between Hollywood and Silicon Valley

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Attending his first conventions as MPAA chairman this summer, Chris Dodd has a markedly different perspective from four years ago, when he was still a senator and a 2008 presidential contender.

Although he has a high-profile seat at the DNC, having joined Vice President Joe Biden in his suite at the Time Warner Cable Arena to watch First Lady Obama speak to the delegates Tuesday evening, he planned to spend just 24 hours at the confab.

And his appearance reflects the different approaches to these gatherings by the tech industry — Google has a giant pavilion made of shipping containers, and Facebook and Twitter have a heavy presence — and the film biz.

“Many of (the tech companies) have resources far in excess of what our studios would have today,” Dodd said in an afternoon interview over drinks at the Ritz-Carlton. “You know we have such a great reputation over the years, going back to Jack Valenti’s days, people have a high regard for what we do. Having a pavilion or coffee shops, I really don’t think that’s necessarily needed. I think getting around, doing our job, seeing people, is enough. And I respect others wanting to have a more visible presence, but I don’t think we’re being shortchanged because we don’t end up spending a lot of money to have a pavilion of some kind.”

Dodd’s meetings with governors and other lawmakers have been more low key, save for a speech to the Connecticut delegation and the co-hosting of an event in honor of his good friend Edward M. Kennedy’s Institute for the Senate. Dodd was in Tampa for the Republican National Convention last week, also for a day, and he said the experience visiting a Republican gathering and making the industry’s case was “very pleasant,” even if his appearance raised some eyebrows among those who perhaps thought he was still in Congress.

Dodd issued a statement Tuesday praising the Democratic party platform, which calls for protections of Internet freedom as well as protection of intellectual property. He also praised the Republican platform language last week. But neither platform gets into the specifics that would trigger the kind of the outcry that greeted the Stop Online Piracy Act anti-piracy legislation, which stalled in the face of an Internet protest in January.

“I think what a lot of people realize is that legislation had some problems with it,” Dodd said. “But the underlying principle — that the creative innovation of the film and television industry ought to be respected, and therefore striking that balance between a free and open Internet, and simultaneously protecting the intellectual property of this creative industry — that we ought to be able to strike that balance. Whether that bill did it or not, it’s over. It’s history.”

Dodd cited Google’s announcement that it would alter its search algorithms to give less prominence to sites selling pirated goods as something that he “appreciates immensely.”

“I think there’s a growing effort in the industries themselves to find some common ground on how we manage to satisfy both industries going forward, and also some thought that if we need some sort of legislation, we are going to do it cooperatively if we can,” he said. “I am not looking for a brawl. I don’t think the technology industry is either.”

Dodd added, “There is a lot of conversation going on between industry leaders and technology leaders on how to find that common space that we need for both of these industries to complement each other.”

Dodd publicly supports President Obama. Asked how his job would change if Mitt Romney is elected he said, “I hope you are wrong.”

But Dodd rejected the notion that he would be at a disadvantage if Romney is elected and Republicans control all of Congress.

“I don’t want to shock people, but Mitch McConnell and I are very good friends,” Dodd said. “He was my principal speaker at my valedictory event, if you will, along with Joe Biden. John Boehner and I are very good friends. My colleagues in the Senate I worked with over the years. We don’t see each other through the partisan prism. I rarely if ever introduced a bill without having a Republican co-sponsor to it. I was known as someone who could build bridges with both parties. It is a failure to understand who I am, what my reputation is, and I will leave it to others as to whether or not they thought I was so partisan I couldn’t possibly have a relationship with them, now that I have left politics and am in this business of representing this great American industry.”

Romney and the Republican platform take a hard line on China, and are critical of the administration’s approach, in ways that could have an impact on how issues such as trade and copyright are approached. But Dodd cautioned that there is a difference between the rhetoric of a convention and the policies actually put into practice.

“You realize we are in silly season, and the Chinese are mature enough to understand they have seen this before. Every administration who is challenged, the rhetoric gets pretty hot. Then you come down and you have to work in the world we live in,” Dodd said.

Dodd, however, expressed strong feelings about the state of political discourse these days, decrying personal attacks from both sides. He praised Clint Eastwood, still a topic of conversation days after his infamous RNC speech.

“I like him a lot. He’s been very generous,” Dodd said of the actor and filmmaker. “He has come to Washington not only to promote his own films, he’s made himself available to me, when I have called him and asked him for his guidance and help on things. And it was unfortunate set of circumstances the other night, but my respect for him as a performer, a director and a human being are not diminished at all by what happened over a couple of minutes at a convention.”

Dodd’s first convention was as a page at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee when the party met in Chicago in 1996 as a prelude to President Bill Clinton’s re-election.

This time around at the DNC, Dodd sat in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton, nursing a glass of wine and greeting old party hands. That’s certainly a lot more at ease than he was even four years ago.

“I am very, very comfortable with this,” Dodd said of his new role. “I am enjoying being here. So it is kind of a whole new feeling to come and be an observer rather than necessarily be engaged in the process.”