Why Democrats Need to Pick the Right Leader for Copyright (Guest Column)

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in more than three decades in the creative community is that to support our endeavors, we have a great deal of work to do in Washington D.C.

Some lawmakers, while they make decisions every day that affect our lives, often profoundly misunderstand our needs. Many of these decisions happen behind the scenes and might not seem on the surface that they are critical to American creativity. The most current and pressing example is the vote that will take place among House Democrats on Wednesday to elect the next minority leader (what they call a “ranking member”) of the House Judiciary Committee.

For most of us, whether Rep. Jerry Nadler from New York or Rep. Zoe Lofgren from California is chosen to fill the role might not appear to matter much. But that’s not the case. Having the right leader in that position matters for the 5.5 million Americans whose jobs depend on copyright and the ability to earn a living by making art.

This is not the kind of thing I thought about for most of my career. When I became CEO of CreativeFuture, I had been running indie film companies for 30 years, unaware of issues on Capitol Hill that would affect my livelihood. Now that I regularly visit Washington as part of a grassroots advocacy organization that fights for the rights of creatives, I speak daily with policymakers and their staffs on both sides of the aisle. Whether we discuss copyright policy, the intellectual property provisions in international trade agreements, or other matters that affect our livelihoods, it’s always incumbent upon us to explain why our creative work matters.

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Some members of Congress get it, but some don’t. That’s why this decision matters to our community. In my experience, Rep. Nadler always gives us a fair shake, while Rep. Lofgren has often taken positions that do not help those 5.5 million workers or the 300 million Americans who enjoy their work.

Rep. Nadler is the most senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. He understands that our industry drives the national economy by creating and supporting jobs not only in his home state of New York, but in all 50 states. His voting record speaks for itself – he has consistently authored and advocated legislation that provides creatives with more control over the fruits of their labor, while also being respectful of the interests of consumers. He is a pro-union progressive whose constitutional expertise is peerless in Congress.

Rep. Lofgren, by contrast, has made her mark as an anti-copyright member of the U.S. House. When then-Congressman Howard Berman passed the Pro-IP Act into law in 2008 to increase federal resources for criminal enforcement of intellectual property, Rep. Lofgren led a tiny cadre of eleven other members in opposition to the bill. Earlier this year, the Judiciary Committee passed a bill in a bipartisan vote of 27-1 to make the head of the Copyright Office a presidential appointee. The sole dissenting voice? Rep. Lofgren. And she continued to try to thwart this key improvement to the Copyright Office, until the House of Representatives passed the bill overwhelmingly.

What accounts for Rep. Lofgren’s positions? She represents a Silicon Valley district and counts as her constituents the internet platform monopolies – led by Google and Facebook. She consistently supports the largest and most profitable companies in the world, at the expense of copyright and creatives. The weaker our copyright laws, the more those constituents can benefit financially from piracy and other practices that harm copyright owners. According to the campaign finance watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, Rep. Lofgren was the single largest recipient of Silicon Valley campaign cash among House members before the 2016 election.

The Democrats’ selection of a new ranking member of the Judiciary Committee will affect copyright policy for many years to come. Were the Democrats to take back the House in 2018 – not an unreasonable possibility – the person chosen by the Democrats now will almost certainly become the Committee’s chair and control the House agenda on copyright issues. As Democrats seek to take back the House with their “Better Way” agenda and economic message, it is truly frightening that they might turn their back on creative industries that deliver high paying, often unionized, working class jobs that don’t necessarily require a college education.

On Dec. 20, the Democrats will either choose a proven friend of creativity or a determined foe. Rep. Nadler has the temperament for leadership and fairness, while his opponent has demonstrated otherwise when it comes to copyright issues.

I’ve been told that House Democrats from Southern California feel they are facing an especially difficult decision in this race. Geographical loyalty is a significant factor. But that would be the wrong reason to vote for the next leader. Loyalty to Southern California’s workers and businesses demands support for Rep. Nadler.

The most difficult part of my job is helping my community to understand why these seemingly esoteric debates about copyright or trade should mobilize us just as much as some of our other causes. It’s because our jobs depend upon effective copyright laws. And if we didn’t have these jobs, we wouldn’t have the voice, or the means, to advocate for those other causes.

So I ask our Democratic members of Congress to put allegiance to their districts and the creative community first.

Ruth Vitale is the CEO of CreativeFuture, a nonprofit coalition of 525 companies and organizations and more than 170,000 creative individuals devoted to promoting the value of creativity in the digital age. She has held top posts at Paramount Classics, Fine Line Features and New Line Cinema.

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