Paramount's Post-SOPA 'Outreach' To Law Students About 'Content Theft' Still Shows An Out Of Touch Operation

from the talking-at-cross-purposes dept

You may remember, in the wake of the SOPA/PIPA fight that Paramount Pictures (a Viacom company) reached out to a bunch of top law schools, asking if it could send its “Worldwide VP of Content Protection and Outreach” (seriously), Albert Perry, to teach the students about the evils of “content theft.” It appears that Brooklyn Law School took them up on the offer, and Brooklyn Law school prof Derek Bambauer wrote up some great notes on the session. The law school also had professor Jason Mazzone (author of Copyfraud and this month’s Techdirt book club author) provide a “response” to Perry.

Honestly, the talking points won’t surprise anyone who pays attention to this stuff. Perry argues that Hollywood is suffering massively from “content theft” and that something must be done. Mazzone, thankfully, points out that Perry is being disingenuous in using the word “theft,” when it’s not theft under the law or in reality. Using the word “theft” unfairly biases the discussion and ignores both the realities of copyright, and the fact that copyright is not absolute. Perry, however, can’t let go of the term, apparently. You could sum of Perry’s talk by basically saying “well, the big Hollywood studios are suffering, and it’s everyone’s fault but our own.”

He literally admits that there may be more indie films and such, but that those aren’t the films that anyone cares about. Instead, you see, culture will be worse off if Hollywood can’t produce the next Transformers movie:

While he said he didn’t want to get into copyright math, Perry noted that the number of films released by the six major motion picture studios has dropped from 204 in 2006 to 134 in 2011…. He suggested that online infringement affects ancillary (post-box office) revenues, which isn’t captured in rosy reports of ticket sales. Perry said he doesn’t believe that infringement will wipe out content – rather, it will shift it. We’ll see more small-budget or amateur films, and fewer major studio films. These movies, he suggested, are the iconic ones that people remember and reference, so piracy may have an important cultural impact.

Of course, there are a few problems in these claims. While the big six studios may have made fewer movies, many more movies were made overall in the global economy. Just looking at the US, while the major studios released 204 movies in 2006, indies released 390. His number is off in 2011. It was actually 141 movies released by the major studios… but indies increased their release numbers to 469. So, total movies released actually grew from 2006 until 2011. That certainly suggests that everyone else in the market is figuring out how to adapt. Why should we be concerned about six companies that are unwilling to adapt? And, is that ever condescending and insulting to suggest that indie movies can’t possibly have the “cultural impact” of a movie like Jack and Jill.

Perry also praised totally one-sided and misleading “education campaigns” that copyright maximalist organizations like the Copyright Alliance have been able to get into schools, ignoring things like fair use (it was also noted that Perry ignored fair use in his initial statements). It’s really silly that schools are accepting industry propaganda like that to teach kids. Thankfully, more accurate alternatives are being created.

The other bit of good news in all of this is that it sounds like the students were mostly skeptical of Perry’s claims, and recognize that he’s exaggerating — though it sounded like he couldn’t even comprehend where they were coming from:

The discussion was impressively thoughtful and civil. The students evinced skepticism about the movie industry’s good faith and bona fides, particularly given the drafting of SOPA / PROTECT IP, and also given the recording industry’s history of suing its users. Perry pointed out that Paramount is trying hard to make content available widely, cheaply, and easily, and that the only other way of altering the reward calculus to users is to engage in enforcement against end consumers, which no one likes. He was repeatedly puzzled by the attitude of law students that infringement isn’t a big deal (since it’s unlawful), particularly when this attitude is justified by reference to movie industry profits.

In the end, while it was civil, it sounds like the same old story of Hollywood just not understanding. The profits of six organizations is of little concern to the wider social benefit, and Hollywood cannot show that there’s any wider harm (because there is no such proof). Thankfully, it appears that the students (and professors) at Brooklyn Law get this important point.

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Companies: paramount, viacom

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Comments on “Paramount's Post-SOPA 'Outreach' To Law Students About 'Content Theft' Still Shows An Out Of Touch Operation”

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41 Comments
Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’ve had to lurk more lately, thanks to a ridiculous workload. But fear not, I am always watching you people creepily from the shadows, ready to breathe heavily over you should you fall asleep….

And speaking of Spaceballs….does anyone else remember the whole “watch the movie before it’s out” gag where the crew of Spaceball One ended up watching themselves on the screen? Anyone else see the genius in Mel Brooks predicting the end of release windows in that fashion?

Joe Publius (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

– You’re looking at now sir. Everything that’s happening now is happening now.
– What happened to then?
– We passed then.
– When?
– Just now.

I seriously think that scene ranks with “Who’s on First”, which is timeless in its hilarity, as comedic dialog. Whoever wrote it deserves a medal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Halloween (1978)
Budget: $325,000

Enter the Dragon (1973)
Budget $850,000

Monsters (2010)
Budget $500,000

Deep Throat (1972) $22,500
Sholay (1975) Budget $400,000 (highest grossing Indian movie ever)
El Mariachi (1992) Budget $7,000
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Budget $15 million (Highest Chinese grossing movie)
Napoleon Dynamite Budget $400,000
Juno Budget $6,5 million
Slumdog Millionaire Budget $15 million
Eraserhead (1977) Budget $10,000 (David Lynch)
Paranormal Activity (2007) Budget $15,000
Clerks (1994) Budget $27,000

Mad Max

http://www.elistmania.com/juice/10_low_budget_movies_that_were_a_hit/
http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2009/06/15/15-great-low-budget-movies-that-made-a-relative-killing/

Modplan (profile) says:

We?ll see more small-budget or amateur films, and fewer major studio films. These movies, he suggested, are the iconic ones that people remember and reference, so piracy may have an important cultural impact.

What’s funny about this is that he takes no account of marketing. Indie films just don’t have the same “cultural impact” because… well, just because. Certainly it isn’t anything to do with hugely expensive marketing campaigns so people actually know about the film compared to indies without the budget.

Lowestofthekeys (profile) says:

Good ol Bruce Campbell

I was reading up on cult followings on wikipedia to see if there had been a correlation between cult films and the lack of big budget Hollywood marketing and found this intriguing quote from Bruce Campbell:

Actor Bruce Campbell (he himself called “The King of B-Movies”, and maintaining a dedicated cult following for films such as The Evil Dead) once contrasted “mainstream films” and “cult films” by defining the former as “a film that 1,000 people watch 100 times” and the latter as “a film that 100 people watch 1,000 times”.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem is lawyers are not protected they need protection from other lawyers to understand what copyright really is all about.

Every argument that a lawyer makes in court should be automatically protected for life plus 95 years and anybody using the same argument in court should be brought to justice, also judges that allow such arguments in a court of law without the original creator not being paid should go to jail.

Then law students would understand what a granted monopoly really means.

It means only a few will ever benefit from it and the rest of us can go rough it up elsewhere.

Monopolies must go, if it is not natural and it needs a government to enforce it that monopoly must go NOW!

Synonymously Anonymous says:

Big dull antiquated Hollywood,

a crude and ugly vestigial carbuncle of the previous millennium, claims it is dying and blames the modern age for its woes.

Big effing “whoop”.

Let them die. We’ll bury them next to the stone wheel manufacturers.

Is there anything interesting to ‘talk’ about for a change?

fogbugzd (profile) says:

How dare you suggest that Jack and Jill had no social value. After all, it was the first movie in history to win all 10 categories of the Razzie awards! If not for that single film, the judges would have faced the challenge of trying to decide between several other films from major studios that would have been clear candidates for Razzie awards in years when there was no film of Jack and Jill’s calibre.

Reference: http://www.razzies.com/history/12winners.asp

Emma Tameside (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You can imagine many years in the future, when our children’s children are studying important cultural turning points of history, and one of their exam modules is on the importance of Jack and Jill in the early 21st century! Shudder!

On a more serious note, I think a lot of the issues stem from the fact there is a lot of money in these lobbying groups that can worm its way into even recommended school syllabuses. That is a worrying trend and it will need the new generate of lawyers to understand and combat this trend. It’s even more important now, then ever, that students look to get a graduate diploma in law and change the system from within, rather than voiced protests that do little to change anything in reality. Only by being part of the process can we halt this kind of lobbying.

PlagueSD says:

Re: Originality?

Yeah, Hollywood can’t come up with anything original anymore. I mean they’re remaking Total Recall for heaven’s sake!!! Same story, same character…It’s not even a sequal!!

Total recall: (2012) http://www.welcometorecall.com/
Plot Summary: “Total Recall” is an action thriller about reality and memory, inspired anew by the famous short story ?We Can Remember It For You Wholesale? by Philip K. Dick. Welcome to Rekall, the company that can turn your dreams into real memories. For a factory worker named Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), even though he’s got a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) who he loves, the mind-trip sounds like the perfect vacation from his frustrating life – real memories of life as a super-spy might be just what he needs. But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man. Finding himself on the run from the police ? controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the leader of the free world ? Quaid teams up with a rebel fighter (Jessica Biel) to find the head of the underground resistance (Bill Nighy) and stop Cohaagen. The line between fantasy and reality gets blurred and the fate of his world hangs in the balance as Quaid discovers his true identity, his true love, and his true fate.

Total Recall: (1990) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100802/plotsummary
Plot Summary: Douglas Quaid is haunted by a recurring dream about a journey to Mars. He hopes to find out more about this dream and buys a holiday at Rekall Inc. where they sell implanted memories. But something goes wrong with the memory implantation and he remembers being a secret agent fighting against the evil Mars administrator Cohaagen. Now the story really begins and it’s a rollercoaster ride until the massive end of the movie.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Because the only way to have a hit movie is to have a huge budget…

http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2009/06/15/15-great-low-budget-movies-that-made-a-relative-killing/

http://movies.amctv.com/movie-guide/low-budget-hits.php

http://www.businesspundit.com/10-most-profitable-low-budget-movies-of-all-time/

…or they could just make cheaper movies like the rest of the world does.

PaulT (profile) says:

“erry noted that the number of films released by the six major motion picture studios has dropped from 204 in 2006 to 134 in 2011”

Lol… I love the way they try to weasel their way out by qualifying facts with self-imposed limits and then pretending that’s all that’s important. Here, we see a true statement about the major studios – then pretending that nothing else exists or matters in the full equation.

Yes, *they* might have made less movies – but others didn’t, and they’re far from unsuccessful. Current box office smashes, for example, include the Twilight series and The Hunger Games. Both were released by Lionsgate and its subsidiary Summit – an independent entity not counted among the “big six”.

“We?ll see more small-budget or amateur films, and fewer major studio films.”

Some would argue that this is a very good thing, especially considering the number of high budget flops that nobody really wanted to see (John Carter, Green Lantern, Mars Needs Moms) – most of which were produced by the major studios. Isn’t it a good thing that $250 million box office flops are not being made, in favour of smaller budgeted movies that rake in several times their production budget in their theatrical run alone?

People are getting tired of endless remakes, reboots and sequels, yet the major studios have almost nothing but these on their slates, especially when it comes to higher profile product. If the gap has to be filled by independents who don’t waste as much money but still come out with quality movies, then who honestly cares if the studios die? Most audience members don’t give a crap if a film was produced by Universal or the Weinsteins or Lionsgate – they just want good movies, whoever it is who supplies them is not a factor.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: What about minors?

“I’m not sure where Lionsgate fits in the majors vs indie scale”

Generally speaking, the 6 major studios being referenced in the article are Warner, Universal, Disney/Pixar, Paramount, Fox and Sony/Columbia. Lionsgate are one of a group usually referred to as “mini majors”, that is a studio that’s independently owned and operated but can still produce and release movies on a similar scale to the majors – but whom Perry just happens to exclude from his consideration.

“So far it grossed (in theaters only) almost 60 times it’s budget.”

Erm, where did you get that figure? It’s successful but not THAT successful ($78 million production budget, $309 million gross domestic + $157 million foreign so far – http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=hungergames.htm)

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