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.