Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), already engaged in an acrimonious fight for a San Fernando Valley congressional seat, sparred over the Stop Online Piracy Act, the anti-piracy bill that stalled out last month after an unprecedented online protest.
At a debate in Tarzana, Berman touted his support of anti-piracy legislation that has made him one of the staunchest defenders of copyright in Congress. He's also being backed heavily by studio and creative types, who played no small part in helping him erase a fund-raising disadvantage against Sherman.
But Sherman said the legislation was flawed --- even though he is a cosponsor of it.
"My co-sponsorship is a symbol that I want the bill to go forward in the process, but it may very well need changes," he said to a packed crowd at the Temple Judea, adding that he supported the objective of the legislation. "...We need to make it clear that you got to pay for the entertainment and at the same time, we have to make sure that there isn’t a system that unduly interferes with YouTube, Facebook, and the rest of them."
Berman jumped on that remark. "I try not to sponsor or cosponsor a bill as a symbol of my general position even though I think the language is stupid," he said. He also defended the bill, saying that "the fact is a campaign of disinformation and massive exaggeration and hyperbole was made against this bill by brilliant strategists in the Silicon Valley, but they carried the day."
Because of redistricting, Berman and Sherman are facing each other in the west Valley district, which includes not just studios but a significant number of industry employees. Their race already is bitter, and there is a chance that they will face each other not just in the June primary but in the general election. California's new open primary system means that the two top vote getters will face each other in November.
One of the Republican candidates in the race, Mark Reed, was much less nuanced about SOPA. He's against it.
He said that the positions of Sherman and Berman are "a great example of these two people appeasing the entertainment industry by trying to get the government to do something to protect intellectual property rights when it is absolutely incumbent on the industry to monitor themselves and protect it."
Berman responded, "We are talking about property rights. That is what the government is there for, to enforce the law and to ensure people don't violate it, and go after people who do violate it."