by Mike Masnick
Fri, Apr 5th 2013 2:33pm
Tue, Mar 19th 2013 8:47am
from the not-so-black-and-white dept
After last year's Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) debacle, Hollywood quietly retreated from the copyright debate to nurse its wounds and rethink strategy. Now, with recent activity at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the introduction of the Copyright Alert System (CAS), the industry is poised to re-enter the conversation with a fresh plan. As MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd recently admitted to the National Press Club, "I'm looking for a new approach." But in the wake of SOPA, with opposition from Silicon Valley and little traction in D.C., is there anywhere left to look? As it turns out, Dodd's answers may be waiting in the unlikeliest of places -- Hollywood's own backyard.
Don't let the party line fool you -- if there's one thing the film and television industry can't live without, it's copyright infringement. Ask any assistant. Piracy in Hollywood is not just a quiet expectation, it's a stated requirement, and oftentimes a formal part of job training. When I started as a studio assistant, one of the first lessons I learned was how to rip an encrypted DVD. But it's not just the studios. From agencies to management firms to offices all over town, the volume of infringing material that trades hands on a daily basis makes Hollywood look like a Chinese flea market.
Let's take an example. An agent wants to introduce her new director client to the town. How best to make the introduction? Burn 40 copies of the client's debut feature and send them out to producers. Now one of the producers watches the film and sees potential for a big-budget remake. How does he pitch the project to financiers? Burn another dozen copies and send them out. Now one of the financiers watches the film and wants to gauge the opinion of a younger demographic. So he burns a few copies and sends them to his daughters at college. And just like that, 3 executives (and their assistants) have committed over 50 acts of copyright infringement.
Now multiply that by the daily routine of buying, selling, and trading movies, TV shows, books, and comics, and piracy in Hollywood starts to look less like a dirty secret and more like a cultural norm. But beyond the illegality and hypocrisy of the situation lies a much more salient point which is its sheer, bottom-line necessity. Because the truth is, there's no better alternative, and not even a close second. The quick pace of the industry requires a constant flow of content and infringement is the way to get it done. In Hollywood, piracy isn't a matter of legal rights; it's just business.
So where does that leave industry policy? While it's safe to assume the MPAA doesn't endorse the casual infringement that courses through the industry, the organization is working hard to distance itself from SOPA's one-size-fits-all approach to IP protection. From Dodd's consistent rhetoric of cooperation to the recent appointment of Diane Strahan as COO, the MPAA has made a clear push to partner with the technology industry in the distribution and protection of digital content. Some may question whether these efforts are genuine -- is Strahan's background with UltraViolet and digital rights management the right type of experience for the job? Nevertheless, assuming the best, while it's certainly refreshing to see the industry operate under a banner of collaboration, the real question is whether these efforts are sufficient to craft a new, comprehensive copyright regime.
Let's take a step back. In the larger scheme of finding Dodd's "new approach," there's one inescapable reality -- intellectual property protection is a matter of law. Business strategies and technological advances shape the means of consuming and distributing content, but without a legal foundation for support, they'll continue to operate on shaky ground. Because as we've seen, whenever a new wall goes up, a new tunnel isn't far behind. And there's the elephant in the room of the MPAA's newfound belief in tech-centric partnerships -- what happens when those tunnels are exposed? When the CAS is subverted? When Ultraviolet is hacked? How will the MPAA respond when the new salvos break and we're left with the same copyright legislation still woefully unsuited to the times?
Enter the Hollywood pirates. This is where industry infringement can move the needle by highlighting the absolute kookiness of our copyright laws. The MPAA professes to support our current policy in the name of the agents, executives, and filmmakers who undermine that policy every single day. So what gives? Does the MPAA ignore its industry's behavior and retreat to the comfort of the status quo? Or does it stick with its new message, swallow the bitter pill, and truly commit to a new approach?
The answer comes down to leadership, and if Chris Dodd's words are anything to go by, I'm inclined to hope for the latter. In every speech, press release, and policy paper, the MPAA makes sure to stress one common point -- job creation. The film and television industry creates jobs -- not just in Los Angeles and New York, but across all 50 states. Those jobs are what the MPAA says it's fighting for, and when the industry says stop pirating, those jobs and a respect for their craft are a reason many of us listen. There are a host of issues wrapped up in the copyright debate -- creative, business, legal, technological -- but when the dust settles, the industry spends nearly $15 million a year on lobbying to protect its own interests and that means the jobs of its constituents.
So when a core requirement of those very jobs is to pirate copyright material, it is incumbent on the MPAA leadership to take a close look at the industry it represents and figure out why. If Dodd takes that look, he'll see the reality on the ground -- that there are scenarios where an owner can't control all uses of her work. That speed, or convenience, or necessity may take priority over a legal claim. In short, that content "in the wild" can take on a life of its own.
And sometimes that's a good thing.
Piracy facilitates business in this industry - and that means jobs. Obviously, the physical copying of Hollywood mailrooms is a far cry from the digital and international piracy truly threatening the studios, but the takeaway remains the same -- copyright is complicated, content is malleable, and any honest attempt to institute a new intellectual property regime needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the times. It may mean carve-outs and exceptions, it may mean years of research, and it may mean a renewed commitment to the legislative process. No matter the path, it means that as Dodd continues looking for a new approach, instead of starting on Capitol Hill or in Silicon Valley, Hollywood might be the place to look after all.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Dec 26th 2012 10:54am
from the well-look-at-that... dept
by Tim Cushing
Mon, Feb 27th 2012 7:09am
from the studio-shocked-to-find-zero-sum-game-on-either-end dept
In an interview with The Quietus to discuss the Blu-ray release of Repo Man, Cox discusses, among other things, the many ways Universal Studios has given him its patented shaft, starting with the supposed sequel to Repo Man:
We took Repo Man sequels to Universal and proposed they do it, but they weren't interested. What they did instead is they brought out a movie titled Repo Men and pretended that was the sequel.So, there's strike one. Studio takes a meeting, feigns disinterest, does it on its own terms while simultaneously abusing any goodwill built up between the director and his fans and between the studio and fans of the original. Then there's the wholly incomprehensible "reason" why the UK is getting Repo Man on Blu-ray but the United States isn't:
Universal Studios has an antipathy towards Repo Man and towards Walker. I don't think they will ever bring out a good version in the US. I can't understand why Universal won't do a sequel given how much money they made off the original Repo Man. It's an institutional animus. The kinds of people that get jobs in studios tend to be fearful of their superiors and that's how they keep their jobs. The guys at Universal, even though they were 13 when Repo Man came out, they've been told by their superiors: 'We don't like that film'. And that's the official attitude from generation to generation in the studio. They have an institutional animus which almost makes you think that corporations really could be people.And... strike two. For reasons only truly known to the studio, Repo Man is not going to see a US release on Blu-ray. Cox has worked with Universal so it's hard to imagine he's just making this up. He's completely right about the institutional fear built into the major studios, which explains everything from the reliance on sequels and remakes to the legislative flailing about in response to piracy. Large entities seldom move quickly and their response time is usually infected with serious amounts of institutional lag. You'd think it would be as simple as throwing on some Region 1 encoding and firing up the burners, but it looks as if Universal Studios would rather American audiences pick this up through alternate methods. If you're worried about "lost sales," it would seem that you'd at least attempt to make your product available for sale.
But Cox isn't through yet. The interviewer mentions "and then there's the crisis of getting the rights from the studios." At that point, Cox tees off:
It's so corrupt. Now they want to have longer copyright periods because they say the young artists are relying on this money. The young artists never see any money because they sign away that money to big media corporations, like Universal and Viacom. We, the artists, lose all of our rights to these massive corporations, who then come down heavy on these kids for downloading films and music that we never see a penny from. It's complete bullshit. I want to encourage your audience to go and pirate a bunch of my stuff right away.Strike three.
This is what happens when you fight a stranger in the Alps, Universal. Instead of having a happy artist celebrating the worldwide Blu-ray release of a seminal film, you've got a disgruntled former employee telling people to shoplift the hell out of the store. The studios seem to think they're playing a super-smart "long game" by pushing for extended copyright while simultaneously refusing to relinquish any control over the creations of others. As long as the major studios (and labels) continue operating in this antagonistic fashion, they'll find that their "long game" has left them with nothing to play for. Piracy is a message and it's being repeated by the very artists they thought they had under control.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jan 23rd 2012 5:41am
from the joe-grassroots? dept
Well, it seems they knew they were missing out on one key ingredient to prove just how "grassroots" they were... so they went over the law enforcement side of things, snapping up one Chris Ortman from Homeland Security. Yes, the same Homeland Security responsible for abusing copyright laws to illegally seize and censor websites for over a year under no legal basis.
Yes, that's right folks, the group that is pretending to be grassroots, but is really an astroturf organization -- which has bent over backwards to insist that SOPA/PIPA were not about censorship at all -- has hired someone from the very US government agency that has been using similar copyright laws to seize and censor websites. Perhaps his nickname is "grassroots"?
And the group wonders why actual artists aren't buying what they're selling. Perhaps rather than staffing it with former studio execs, MPAA lackeys and law enforcement censors... why not try actual content creators next time? Oh, perhaps it's because lots of actual content creators know that SOPA/PIPA are bad ideas.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Nov 29th 2011 10:28am
NBC Universal Threatens Partners That They Need To Sign 'Grassroots' Support Of SOPA/PIPA Or It Might Have To Drop Them
from the this-is-getting-sad dept
Either way, it seemed somewhat amusing to discover that some of the top execs at NBC Universal have been threatening all NBC Universal suppliers to sign the letter that CreativeAmerica put together or NBC might no longer be able to do business with them:
We are writing to ask you for help on an issue that is one our top business priorities – content theft on the Internet, which is a major threat to the strength of our business. Our major guilds and unions are joining us in the fight to keep our businesses strong so that the tidal wave of content theft does not kill jobs. But if the current trend continues, it’s not too strong to say that this threat could adversely affect our business relationship with you.Grassroots effort? When NBC Universal's General Counsel, Rick Cotton -- who famously once claimed that piracy was destroying the lowly corn farmer, since people who watch pirated movies don't eat popcorn (or something) -- is threatening suppliers who don't sign on? That's not grassroots. That's just insane. Now, it's true that Cotton wrote this carefully such that you can read it to suggest it means that if this law doesn't pass, NBC Universal's business will be in so much trouble that it has to shut down or cut off deals with suppliers. But it seems pretty clear that the obvious implication is: sign this or we may no longer do business with you.
But, given that "the big guns" at NBC Universal are pushing all their suppliers to directly sign (or else!) the letter found at CreativeAmerica's site, you might think that a lot more people would have signed on. Especially over the last month, with SOPA making so much news. So we went and checked.
That gives us 161 new signatures (actually 160.666666 etc -- which makes me wonder what happened to that extra third of a person). 161. In a month.
Meanwhile, a real grassroots campaign turned out one million emails to Congress and 87,834 calls in one day. It should be clear at this point that the public clearly does not support SOPA/PIPA, and no amount of "faking it" is driving any public support.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Nov 3rd 2011 11:01am
Warner Bros., Right After Announcing Record Profits, Pleads Poverty In Asking People To Support 'Grassroots' Campaign For E-PARASITE Act
from the that's-chutzpah dept
In July, we informed you about the creation of and Warner Bros.’ involvement with Creative America, a grassroots coalition uniting the entertainment community and others against one of the biggest threats we face as an industry: content theft. Thank you to those of you who have already joined and supported Creative America. This is an important first step, but there’s still more we can do.I dunno. WB, if you've just made $822 million in profits alone, perhaps you could donate some of that to residuals? Ha Ha, who am I kidding? Movie studios never pay residuals. Remember, this is Warner Bros. And part of the reason it was so profitable this quarter was the latest Harry Potter movie. But last year, we got to analyze the accounting on an earlier Harry Potter movie, showing how Warner Bros. played with the numbers to take a movie that brought in $938 million and still let Warner Bros. claim a $167 million "loss," through highly questionable accounting, designed almost entirely to avoid paying royalties. The trick, of course, is to set up each movie as its own "corporation" that has to pay the parent studio "fees" for certain "services." You keep ratcheting up those fees, and the studio makes a ton, but the "company" that is the movie can always claim a loss to avoid paying royalties.
Thieves in the U.S. and abroad continue to make millions of dollars off our work, talents and creativity. For instance, “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the most popular targets of digital content thieves, with more than 600,000 illegal digital downloads thus far in 2011. Meanwhile, “The Hangover Part II” was illegally downloaded some 700,000 times in the first five months since its theatrical release.
Content theft doesn’t just affect a single show or film or even studio. It affects residual benefits, pension funds and health plans as well as jobs that our industry supports—whether directly or in ancillary markets and businesses. Therefore, it’s in all of our interests to stand behind Creative America.
Honestly, if you know anything about the numbers, you'd know that Warner Bros. is a much larger threat to residuals and other things like health plans and jobs, than any file sharing by some kids who'd never pay to see the movie anyway. SOPA/E-PARASITE isn't going to help people in the business get paid. Execs, sure. But not everyone else. Not by a long shot.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Oct 21st 2011 12:06pm
from the don't-make-me-laugh dept
If you dig into the website to figure out who's really behind it, it claims that it's a "grassroots organization," but fails to name a single creative individual who was behind putting the group together. Instead, it lists out the following companies and organizations who really put the site together (amusingly, they even block you from cutting and pasting this part, so I just retyped it -- meaning I circumvented their DRM... come at me, entertainment industry):
CBS Corporation, NBC Universal, the Screen Actors Guild, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Viacom, the Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. EntertainmentWell, well. That's not a grassroots effort, folks. Now, the site also includes various unions, including the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild and IATSE (stage hands, etc.). But these are the old school, out of touch unions that who have done little to nothing to help their members adapt to the times (often doing the opposite). Do we see any of the actually creative folks who have embraced new technologies, new methods of distribution and new business models? Nope.
In the meantime, how can the website seriously claim that it's a grassroots effort when it has every single major Hollywood Studio behind it. Do they think that people are stupid? And should we remind people that these are the same studios who have all sorts of scammy tricks for "Hollywood accounting" to make sure even the most successful films are never seen as profitable, allowing them to avoid paying royalties to the actual creative folks.
Next, if you dig into the website, they have a "send a letter to your elected officials" thing. And the real evidence that it's not a real grassroots effort? Just like other faux grassroots efforts, those agreeing to send the letter have no option to edit the letter. When groups like Demand Progress and EFF let you send letters about PROTECT IP, they let you edit them to your liking -- trusting people to express themselves.
But, this "Creative America" apparently does not trust its own members to be creative. The letter is 100% locked down. You can only send their text. Honestly, if a group supposedly representing creators won't even let its own members express themselves freely, you know that it's not actually about protecting "creative" America.
This is not a grassroots effort. This is not about protecting "Creative America." This is about protecting a few megacorporations who are scared of new innovations, afraid of their dwindling monopoly rents, and trying to force the rest of the world to go back to the way things used to be.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Oct 7th 2011 11:06am
from the is-this-a-joke? dept
So what do you do if that plan fails? Well, if you're smart, you look at more reasonable price points. If you're not... you raise the price. Yes, that's right. Universal, with the assistance of parent company Comcast, is now going to test the preposterous $60 video on demand offering. The reason for the jacked up price? Because it'll come out on VOD three weeks after being released in the theaters -- at which point the film will still be in the theaters. The test is also going to be done on what the studio hopes is going to be a blockbuster: Tower Heist, starring Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller and Matthew Broderick.
Here's what's wrong with this: the studio is thinking about this from the studio's perspective and not the consumer's perspective (at all). Of course, this is NBC Universal we're talking about, so that's not particularly shocking. In the studio world, release "windows" are everything. And each later release window is less and less of a big deal. So it's totally natural to them to think "gee, if we move up the release window, that's more valuable, so let's jack up the price." But a consumer isn't thinking about release windows. A consumer is thinking "I want to watch a movie. I could go out to the theater, or I could watch it at home." And then they look at the option at home... and if they can, say, watch a film at no additional cost from Netflix... or if they can grab a movie at Redbox for $1... and they compare that to $60 for video on demand, who's actually going to do that? The pricing is insanity.
Even funnier, however, was watching how the theaters totally freaked out over the original $30 plan, as they do with any plan to shrink the precious "window" between the theatrical release and any other kind of release. This is because theater owners don't know what business they're in. They think that they're in the content business, when they're really in the business of selling their seats. The fact that theater owners thought they couldn't compete with an insane $30 rental suggests that they don't know how to provide a good experience.
And, of course, now that there's an even more ridiculous $60 price point, you would think that the theater folks would chuckle and say "hey, we can compete with that, no problem." But it appears theater owners may be even more unable to comprehend the mind of the consumer than the execs at NBC Universal. Thus, Cinemark is already warning that it will boycott the movie if Universal goes forward with this plan.
In the meantime, it's also worth noting that the theaters convinced a bunch of big name Hollywood directors to sign an open letter to the studios protesting these kinds of "early" VOD releases. One of the names on that letter, by the way? Brett Ratner. The director of Tower Heist. Embarrassing... He is, of course, trying to distance himself from this trial, noting that he wasn't informed of it until the day before it was announced and had nothing to do with it. Of course, that's part of what happens when you do a deal like this. The studio owns the project, and they can do whatever they want with it.
Either way, don't expect too many people to pay up for this experiment. It almost makes you wonder if the idea is to make it fail on purpose.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Sep 26th 2011 11:25am
from the pricing,-duh dept
The service is part of an attempt by studios to harness pay-TV as they seek new ways to sell movies and counter shrinking DVD sales. Few customers will purchase the premium rentals unless the quality of the movies improves and the price comes down, White said in an interview.Of course, the studios forced that price because they're petrified of pissing off the theater owners (who were already pissed off), because the big studios still think that the "movie business" is defined solely and completely by how well a film does in the theaters on its opening weekend. The theater owners, at the same time, don't want to have to compete and actually improve the quality of their service -- so they whine and complain any time the studios do anything to make accessing content outside of the theaters any easier.
“They’re priced too high for consumers,” White said. “We didn’t choose that price, but that’s where the studios forced us to be.”
The end result, then, is just a big question of why anyone bothered at all with this plan. It made no sense for anyone involved. If you're going to offer video on demand to consumers, offer them a reasonable product at a reasonable price or don't bother.