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Congresswoman Judy Chu: Too Many Americans Think Piracy is OK

Chu spoke with TheWrap about what she learned from SOPA and why we need a permanent federal tax credit.

Since the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, congresswoman Judy Chu has intensified her efforts to eradicate piracy. To succeed, Chu and her allies in the entertainment industry need to win the public back.

The aggressive opposition of Wikipedia and Google, two major proponents of a free and open Internet, helped sink the bill Chu co-sponsored. They propagated the idea that SOPA would end the Internet as we know it.

“The American public doesn’t understand the consequences to piracy,” Chu told TheWrap. “There are large segments of it that even think it’s okay.”

Also read: Ron Burgundy Advises Audiences Against Film Piracy in New ‘Anchorman 2’ Spot (Video)

Chu, who represents a swath of northeastern Los Angeles that includes Pasadena, Monterey Park and much of the San Gabriel Valley, stopped by the American Film Market over the weekend to talk with members of the film industry about the enduring problem.

She believes piracy poses a grave threat to the financiers and sales agents in attendance, and they are eager to have an ally in Washington D.C.

TheWrap spoke with Chu about what she learned from SOPA, whether Google has done enough to stop piracy and how to bring production back to the United States.

TheWrap: What brought you to AFM?
Jean Prewitt invited me. She helped me with the Creative Rights Caucus, which is something I started after the defeat of SOPA. There needed to be a way to tell the stories of filmmakers and musicians and songwriters who make a living by creating these works of art.

What did you learn from the failure of SOPA?
The American public doesn’t understand the consequences to piracy. There are large segments of it that even think it’s okay. They thought SOPA would shut down the Internet. There has to be a better way of doing outreach to the American public.

Also read: MPAA: Google Gets a Failing Grade for Anti-Piracy Efforts (Updated)

What do you want them to know?
They may have the misperception that they are just affecting big studios. They are not thinking about the every day person, the people who live in my district – set designers, lighting technicians. There are hundreds of thousands of people being affected. People need to see their face and their story.

What stories did you hear from executives at AFM?
They told me about their problems with piracy and how it’s affected what they do. It’s created greater difficulties in terms of pre-selling movies. It affects them every day.

How so?
The most drastic is in pre-selling. It has made the market much less lucrative. They can’t get financing. It’s different from the major motion picture studios. They finance movies through pre-sales, and with the drop in the DVD market they can’t make what they did before.

But pre-selling is about foreign territories. Is piracy a larger issues overseas than in the United States?
It’s just as big an issue here. There are some countries that have absolutely no enforcement where it’s particularly bad. Spain is a country where piracy is rampant. But we still have the same problem here – no enforcement.

Also read: ‘Breaking Bad’ Creator Vince Gilligan: Piracy Helped My Meth Series

How do you remedy that?
We need to have a greater understanding of [piracy] by the American public. Piracy affects one of the main American exports. It’s a huge industry for the United States, and Americans have to understand it is not right to pirate information.

The MPAA just did a study on how people get pirated content. 74 percent said they first were introduced to infringing content through search engines.

How often do you talk to Google about this? They are obviously the biggest player out there.
We want to have roundtable with them. Google did talk to us about their own voluntary program to make pirated sites appear lower in search.

The MPAA has found it hasn’t had much effect thus far.

Why wasn’t it successful?
Just look at the results. Pirated sites still come up on the first page in search.

Would you introduce another bill?
We need to go as far as we can with voluntary effort and cooperation before we put out another bill.

We are not so far apart. With Google’s voluntary effort, at least they recognize there’s a problem. The question is whether it’s effective. If we can make the program more effective, that would be a great step forward. We need to develop a better system for fighting piracy than a whack-a- mole project.

What other topics came up in conversation with the folks at AFM? Was it only piracy?
Piracy is the dominant issue, but we also talked about film tax credits. The federal film tax credit expires at the end of December. This is another issue I am concerned about. “Iron Man 3” already filmed abroad. There is no excuse for that.

Are you only pushing for credits at the federal level, or the state level too?
Both, but we need to make sure the federal tax credit continues so we have as much incentive as possible for films to stay in the U.S.

Would you want to increase the subsidies?
I would like to do that, but at this point it would be a major accomplishment just to get it extended. It should be permanent so it doesn’t have to be renewed every so often.

Why is it such a struggle?
Have you heard of our government shutdown?

It’s been unavoidable.
There are some people in our Congress who want to shut down nearly every aspect of government. It’s hard to get any budget agreement going on – particularly with tax credits.

Does it come up a lot in budget negotiations?
Let’s just say we want to be a little subtle about it so it doesn’t come up as a point of controversy.