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Piracy: (Some Of) The Short & The Long Of It
By Ted Hope
Thankfully, Taylor Hackford recognizes that the film industry needs to wise up and educate itself on piracy. He and I agree on that. And I think we agree on the goal of it all, but I suspect we have completely different approaches to solving the problem. And that is where I am really concerned. To solve it, Hackford seems willing to sacrifice greater principles in the service of business, and that is a shame. I hope I am wrong.
Mr. Hackford, president of the DGA, was recently speaking at the Content Protection Summit and Variety reported on it. Reading the article I remain unclear as to what Hackford’s point is about piracy beyond that it is bad and we need to make it a real concern of the industry. He seems to be saying that if we want to protect our content, we have to be willing to give up on a free and open internet. He claims groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press as enemies. Shutting down a free and open internet is not the path to solving the piracy problem; it is the path to a closed society that favors a class or capital over access and opportunity — and that is the antithesis of what we need to do.
We can not create a system that favors the powerful, the connected, or the well capitalized. The Film Business already favors all those niches quite well, and government and utilities should do all they can to provide for all equally. Equality under the law and within the society remains one of the greatest ideals, and personally speaking, I would rather have a world that strives for that ideal’s enforcement, even if that striving has to support some bad apples, rather than risk that anyone does not have equal access or equal opportunity.
Hackford was insightful to link Hollywood’s focus on event pictures to piracy, in that if piracy is eroding film’s revenue — or even thought to be — then investors will be more likely to put money into the projects most likely to generate the quickest return and the most unique experience. The insight would actually make sense if individual investors were backers of event pictures, let alone studio pictures. They rarely have such opportunities.
Being someone who has depended on private equity for all but a few of my 60+ films, I have never once heard an investor confess concern about piracy (and granted some of that may have to do with their education on the issue). I do have investors express concern about distribution opportunities, access to markets, cost of promotion, and difficulties to reaching audiences. I do hear people intrigued about using the systems that have been developed by pirates and copy-forward advocates to reach audiences that they have not reached before. They know that the system has to change and recognize the realities of the time we are living in.
I have witnessed first hand, and was one of the key witnesses, in a successful anti-trust suit against the MPAA for coercing the studios to take action that unfairly hurt independents in the process. That case, popularly known as The Screener Ban, used piracy as the fear that prompted excluding the key marketing tool of Award Screeners from all filmmakers’ arsenal. The powerful often look out for their interests without even consulting the rest of the industry about their practices. When Dan Glickman took over at the MPAA, he was quite vigilant at soliciting the indie sector’s opinion on the state of the industry, and I hope his successor remains as committed. I hope whomever takes over the MPAA recognizes the necessity of our culture industry to commit to a free & open internet or else exclude a serious sector of our community.
When it comes to protecting artists’ rights, piracy is a serious issue, but open and free access to a public good (i.e. the internet) is a greater one. We can not look at short term solutions that have long term repercussions. The focus on the piracy issue tends to take place at events that exclude a large portion of the film community — namely the truly independent artists that will never have access to the studio system. We need institutions, organizations, and methods that make sure to include this segment’s voice — and that includes the DGA.
I, and artists everywhere, will not be able to support ourselves — and thus generate new work — if our work is widely stolen and we are not compensated. Mr. Hackford is right on when he speaks of the need for passion and education when it comes to the issue of intellectual property theft, but as we enter that discussion, we need to strenuously protect the greater ideal of equal access and opportunity. We also need to recognize human behavior and the current state of things — people want convenience, but they also want other things. The large media corporations have done little to offer a better option to theft. Our methods of licensing and distributing work relies on out of date analogue models. There are actions that can be taken, by artists and businesses, and it is hight time that we begun this discussion in earnest — but let’s not abandon the ideals as we start the march down the road.
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