In a keynote address at the CineEurope convention this week, MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd described the unblocking goals as a threat to the movie industry. Encouraging participants to reach out to their representatives, Dodd described the concerns as “real, very real.”
“While the stated goals of these proposals are laudable – offering greater choice to European consumers and strengthening cultural diversity – in reality, these ideas could actually cause great harm to Europe’s film industries and its consumers,” Dodd said.
Opening up more markets and more users, while having less overall friction will be bad for the film industry? Only if it's run by complete idiots who don't know how to take advantage of a larger market. But, I guess that's the MPAA way!
Of course, it's not hard to understand what Dodd is really talking about. For years, Hollywood has been able to squeeze extra money out of a convoluted and corrupt manner of territorial licensing -- a system that may have made sense in a pre-modern world, but which hasn't made any sense at all in decades. But because the Hollywood studios abuse that system for profit, often making it impossible for people to see the content they want to see (and are willing to pay for), it doesn't want to change that system.
But, because it's Hollywood, they have a mythical fairy tale to try to make it all make sense:
“The European Union is made up of 28 different nations with different cultures, different languages, and different tastes. Forcing every film to be marketed and released the same way everywhere, at the same time, is a recipe for failure,” Dodd said.
“The ability of filmmakers and distributors to market and release their films where, how, and when they think best gives them the greatest chance to succeed,” he added.
Of course, this is the EU where (at least while the EU lasts... as may now suddenly be in doubt...) people are able to travel freely across borders. Which means that the country you live in may not be the country you grew up in, nor match the same cultural sensibilities. And, these days, it's entirely possible to market films through the internet to find their intended audiences. The idea that by getting rid of geoblocking you suddenly change any of the above points makes no sense. The films that are targeted in one geography can still be proactively marketed in those geographies -- it's just that they will also be available to people from those regions who now live elsewhere (again, making it accessible to a wider audience).
But, again, this is the MPAA that is so focused on locking things down and limiting consumers, it still doesn't realize that treating its customers badly is why the MPAA is so hated.
from the also:-three-big-funders-of-politicians dept
Tons of people seem (quite rightly) concerned about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. As we pointed out last week after the final text was finally, released, the agreement has a lot of really big problems. But if you want to understand just how bad the agreement is, perhaps you should just look at the industries that like it. Vox notes that Big Pharma and Hollywood love the agreement while The Intercept notes that Wall Street loves it.
It should be noted that, actually, Big Pharma is apparently a bit disappointed that the TPP doesn't go far enough in locking up exclusivity for biologics.
That said, talk about three of the most hated industries around: Hollywood, Big Pharma and Wall Street. But, more importantly, talk about three of the most protectionist, anti-free trade industries around. We've been repeating over and over again that the TPP is not a free trade deal and this should be more confirmation. Hollywood, Big Pharma and Wall Street are probably three of the biggest industries to rely heavily on government regulations as a way to limit competition, limit innovation and to use that exclusivity to artificially increase prices at the expense of the public.
And they like the deal.
That's because it's not a free trade deal at all. It's not about "taking away" barriers to trade, it's about building bigger barriers in the form of protectionism to protect big, legacy industries from innovation and competition. Of course, it's no surprise that Hollywood, Big Pharma and Wall Street are also three of the most powerful lobbying industries in Washington DC, because when you can no longer innovate, and you rely on government protectionism, you focus your efforts on "political entrepreneurship" -- better known as getting the government to protect you from real entrepreneurship. So, no wonder the USTR went this direction. They only hear from these kinds of industries, and the end result is a fake free trade agreement that is designed to do the exact opposite. It's designed to build up barriers to protect old, stodgy industries who have relied on protection from competition from decades, and don't want to see that dissolve against foreign competition.
Thanks to the overperformance of N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” Universal Pictures is tracking to cross the $2 billion mark at the domestic box office on Saturday, setting a new speed record in doing so.
Universal’s historic climb will break Warner Bros.’ previous record of reaching $2 billion by December 25, 2009. The studio is also extremely likely to break the record for all-time domestic box office high, which was set by WB in 2009 with $2.1 billion.
That does not sound like an industry that is having a problem getting people into the theaters, even if the movies are available via infringement. But, people will argue, these services are actually harming the "home video" revenue stream. But that's questionable as well. First off, it was Hollywood that angrily fought against ever allowing a home video market in the first place (remember that?). And, more to the point, we've seen over and over again that when the industry actually adapts and offers content in a reasonable format at a reasonable fee, people will pay at home, just like they do in theaters.
But, of course, due to continued Hollywood confusion and jealousy, it's still holding back lots of movies from Netflix streaming -- one successful service that has shown that it's totally possible to "compete" with infringing content.
So, again, it's confusing as to what Hollywood's real complaint is. It's shown that if it makes good films, people will go out to the theaters to see them, rather than just watch them online. And if it offers them in a reasonable manner for a reasonable price online, people will pay for that as well. And yet, it doesn't do a very good job of this and then blames the internet for its own failures to adapt. Seems like a weird strategy. If I were an investor in those companies, I'd wonder why they've spent the better part of two decades so focused on "stopping piracy" rather than doing a better job delivering what the public wants.
You had to know this was going to happen. Now that the US Trade Rep (USTR) has fast track authority after Congress caved in and passed the Trade Promotion Authority bill, efforts have ramped up to complete the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement with meetings in Hawaii this week. Of course, with fast track in hand, the USTR doesn't need to concern itself at all with things like the "public interest" anymore and can focus on the real agenda: big corporate interests. Reports from the negotiations include one from the legal policy adviser from Doctors Without Borders, noting that the USTR organized a briefing for "US stakeholders," but only invited industry representatives. Oh, and the US Chamber of Commerce (the main lobbyists for SOPA) was allowed to book a room next to the negotiating room and got a private briefing from the USTR. Meanwhile, James Love from KEI notes that in a USTR briefing, USTR staffers are deliberately ignoring anyone representing the public interest.
You know who they are listening to, however? You guessed it: Hollywood. Politico notes that now that fast track is in hand and the USTR has more or less free rein in completing the negotiations, Hollywood has jumped in with a bunch of demands to expand copyright laws via TPP:
We've seen the Hollywood versus tech copyright fight play out over everything from SOPA to the Library of Congress. Now the major movie studios are pushing for key items on their wish list as negotiators hammer out the final details of an Asia-Pacific trade agreement. The studios hope the 12 countries working on the pact will agree to copyright protections that, in many cases, last longer than what’s currently in place, Pro Trade’s Doug Palmer reports.
The movie studios also want stricter penalties on piracy, especially as Internet access expands throughout the region.
And, because the USTR almost always gives in to Hollywood (it helps that the MPAA hired the top USTR negotiator on IP last year, so the current negotiators recognize that their next jobs are on the line with this agreement), it appears that the US has convinced a bunch of other countries -- who should know better -- to agree to lock in a life + 70-year copyright term, even as the US Copyright Office has suggested that current copyright terms are too long and should be scaled back.
There is no way to explain this as anything but selling out the public interest to appease corporate interests of Hollywood. It's a fairly disgusting display of the kind of "dealmaking" that the USTR has been pushing for more quietly for years, but now that it has fast track, it knows it can play hardball to help its friends in Hollywood. Fuck the public domain, Hollywood wants to keep getting paid for works from decades ago.
Hollywood's efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.
Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests "keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind," according to an internal email.
That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood's interests – including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact – often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.
The only public indication of the embassy-theater initiative was a February 2015 press release from American officials in Madrid, titled "U.S. Embassy Launches State-of-the-Art Screening Room." It credited "a generous donation" from the MPAA.
Asked about its gifts to the State Department, the lobby group declined to say how many embassies got donations or how much they were worth.
"Because film is a great ambassador for U.S. culture around the world, MPAA assisted with the upgrade of some embassy theater facilities," said spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield. "All gifts complied with the law as well as with State Department ethics guidelines."
Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, said at least three embassies besides Madrid received between $20,000 and $50,000 in entertainment upgrades last year – London, Paris and Rome. The revamped screening rooms, she said, aren't intended to entertain U.S. officials, but rather to help them host screenings to promote an American industry and sow goodwill.
Thompson said the donations were proper and that all gifts to the department are reviewed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. "The department has explicit authorities to accept gifts made for its benefit or for carrying out any of its functions," she said.
The State Department routinely accepts gifts from outside groups, Thompson said. She couldn't provide any other examples of major gifts from groups that simultaneously lobby the agency. Thompson declined to list the items given by the MPAA or their total value, and wouldn't say whether the group had made similar gifts in the past.
There was at least one precedent. A spokesman for Warner Bros. Entertainment said the studio helped pay for the refurbishment of the screening room at the U.S. ambassador's home in Paris in 2011. "This donation was coordinated with the State Department and complied with all appropriate rules and regulations," the spokesman said.
State Department policies posted online specifically permit gifts from individuals, groups or corporations for "embassy refurbishment, " provided that the donors are vetted to ensure there's no conflict or possible "embarrassment or harm" to the agency. The posted policies include no caps on the value of donations, nor any requirements for public disclosure of foreign or American donors. The rules also say that the donations can't come with a promise or expectation of "any advantage or preference from the U.S. Government."
Obtaining an advantage, albeit a nonspecific one, sounded like the goal when a Sony Pictures Entertainment official wrote to the studio's chief executive officer, Michael Lynton, to relay a request to fund the screening rooms from Chris Dodd, the former U.S. senator who heads the MPAA. The executive writing the note – Keith Weaver – sought to assure the CEO that such a donation wouldn't be improper.
"The rationale being that key Ambassadors will keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind, as they screen American movies for high level officials where they are stationed," reads the message, included in a cache of emails hacked from Sony and which were posted online by the website WikiLeaks.
"The cost implication is estimated to be $165k (aggregate of $$$/in-kind) per embassy/per studio. Apparently, donations of this kind are permissible."
Besides Sony, the MPAA represents Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The e-mails suggest that Sony executives decided against contributing to the project for budget reasons.
The MPAA has long been a powerful presence in the nation's capital, spending $1.34 million on federal lobbying last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. One of its flashier tools has been to host exclusive gatherings at its Washington screening room, two blocks from the White House, where lawmakers get to watch blockbuster films, rub elbows with celebrities, and up until several years ago, enjoy dinner – a perk scuttled because of stricter rules on congressional lobbying.
Hollywood studios depend on foreign markets for much of their profit but the MPAA's interests don't always align with those of other major American constituencies. For example, Hollywood studios have moved some film production to Canada to cut costs. American film workers have tried to get the federal government to stop the outsourcing of jobs, but have been met with resistance from the MPAA.
The trade group has also pushed federal officials to pressure foreign governments into adopting stricter copyright laws. An MPAA-funded study found that in 2005 worldwide piracy cost American studios $6.1 billion in revenue. That number has been disputed by digital rights advocates.
For the TPP trade deal, the MPAA has discouraged the American government from exporting "fair use" protections to other countries. In a hacked message from Dodd to the U.S. Trade Representative, the MPAA chief warned that including such provisions, which in American law allow limited use of copyrighted materials without permission, would be "extremely controversial and divisive." Digital rights activists have characterized the efforts as overzealous.
"They're basically encouraging other countries to adopt the most draconian parts of U.S. copyright law and even to reinterpret U.S. copyright law to make it more stringent," said Mitch Stoltz, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Broadly speaking broadening copyright law harms free speech in many cases by creating a mechanism for censorship."
The state-of-the-art screening rooms are a relatively minimal investment by Hollywood as it works to strengthen connections abroad.
This spring, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, brought a group of foreign officials to Los Angeles for a meeting hosted by the MPAA. Among them were representatives from the Canary Islands, who came prepared to discuss filming opportunities and tax incentives for American studios in the Spanish territory. The State Department touted the trip as an opportunity to "expand bilateral trade and investment, including through ties between the entertainment industries."
It's not known whether the path to that particular meeting was eased by the new screening room in Madrid. At the theater's debut in February, the ambassador's guests were treated to a dark tale of corruption, lobbying and double-dealing in Washington – the Netflix series "House of Cards."
For many years, we've written about what an incredible scam state tax subsidies to filmmakers are. Various states shove each other aside trying to throw more money at Hollywood, if they just agree to make their films locally. Hollywood insists that these subsidies are good for the states, because they "create jobs." But the details almost always show otherwise. They are almost always a massive loss to the taxpayers. What jobs are created are temporary -- and often filled by people who fly in from out of town. What "downstream" economic benefits are created are marginal at best. Almost every study of these subsidies has found that they lose money overall. And yet, the states keep expanding these programs, sometimes betting pension funds on them.
So the big question has to be: why do states keep throwing money at Hollywood this way?
The answer, it appears, may have an awful lot to do with out and out corruption.
In the past few years, film programs across the country have been wracked with criminal charges and convictions. Louisiana is in the midst of a criminal trial against individuals charged with fraudulently collecting more than $1 million in state film tax credits for the creation of a film studio in New Orleans. Massachusetts has faced its own criminal trials over tax credit fraud. And in Iowa, a state audit found $26 million in improperly issued tax credits, and a subsequent investigation resulted in 10 criminal cases and 7 convictions. The state ultimately suspended its program in 2009. Nearly six years later, the state is still in the midst of sorting out the criminal trials surrounding its program.
This corruption has also extended to those in positions of determining how these programs work and who receives the available funds. California is currently in the midst of its own film-subsidy scandal involving a state senator, Ron Calderon, who headed the select committee on film and television and was a member of the California Film Commission. Indicted on 24 felony charges, and facing a maximum sentence of 396 years in federal prison, Calderon is accused of accepted cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent who he thought was associated with an independent film studio. In exchange, he agreed to advocate for an extension of the film tax credits.
And then, of course, there's the fund-raising hook. Hollywood scratches a politician's back? The politician scratches Hollywood's back:
Politicians also use their support for incentives, or the threat of removing them, to induce political contributions for Hollywood beneficiaries. For example, in another Sony an email dated January 6, 2014, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “people” request Sony commit to raising $50k by July of 2014. The email continues, “$50k is a heavy lift since most of it needs to come from individual contributions (only $5k can come from corp.)” There are then severalotheremails from Sony’s head of government affairs soliciting contributions. In one of them he notes “Thanks to Governor Cuomo, we have a great production incentive environment in NY…Because of all of this, I think it’s important to significantly support his reelection efforts…”
So, notice that there are three parties at work here -- but only two of whom are actually represented. Cuomo gets campaign funds he wants. Hollywood gets tax breaks they want. It's just the taxpayers who aren't represented and get shafted.
And, as Koopman notes, each year the MPAA sends out a celebratory email highlighting just how much the studios have been able to fleece from taxpayers:
As you have requested annually, attached is the State Government Affairs Department Annual Report for 2013. As you will read, this year MPAA saved the member companies collectively an estimated $110.08 million in corporate tax liability on an annual basis and approximately $86 million in potential regulatory, administrative, compliance and legal fees, also annualized, as a result of accomplishing legislative objectives in the states.
Since 2007, the aggregate annual savings secured by MPAA for the member companies in connection with key corporate state tax legislation is approximately $439.08 million. This is a result of the enactment of single sales factor apportionment in California, and New York City as well as favorable advertising and licensing corporate tax sourcing formulas adopted in North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois and Louisiana.
In addition, states awarded an estimated $1.5 billion in production tax credits in 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times, which MPAA either was engaged in enacting or keeping in place. The majority of those credits went to MPAA member companies as a result of motion picture and television location production in various states, with per project savings ranging from 10 to 30 per cent.
We had another successful year thanks to the hard work of Melissa Patack, Angela Miele, Sarah Walsh, Brian Cohen and Carlin Scrudato, as well as all of your tremendous support, engagement, and encouragement. Also, special thanks to the executives on the state tax, legal and IP working groups, whose expertise and involvement is invaluable. As you know, our contract advocates in the 50 states, who are critical to our success, work tirelessly for MPAA and the member companies. Our coalition partners also played major contributing roles, in particular NATO, DGA, SAG, IATSE and Teamsters.
I don't begrudge the MPAA/studios doing this. Of course, they're going to scrounge for free money from the states who are willing to give it. But it seems problematic given how these programs time after time after time have been shown to be massive failures, often leaving states in serious trouble. At the very least, it seems to deserve deeper scrutiny by the public and government officials as to exactly why states are so ready to hand out this kind of money.
If you go all the way back to when the RIAA shut down Napster, you may recall that within just a short while, Gnutella launched, providing a more distributed system that became the core of a number of file sharing programs, which ended up growing much, much larger than Napster. It's the classic hydra situation: you cut off one head, and eight more (or even more than that) come back in return. It's a message that has been obvious since the days of Napster... and yet it's one that the legacy entertainment industry and its friendly politicians still can't seem to grasp. It's why we've always said that the industry would have been so much better off looking for ways to embrace and work with the leading providers in the space, rather than shutting them down.
But, clearly, they don't get it. As the Sony email leaks showed, "site blocking" is still considered a top priority for Hollywood, even though it doesn't take a genius to realize that it doesn't work.
Now we can add some more evidence: the European Commission itself decided to do a study looking at what happened after the website kino.to was shut down, and shows that it was a complete failure if the industry was looking to stop people from consuming unauthorized videos. As we've seen before with other site blocking efforts and over-enforcement, there is a very brief impact in decreasing access to infringing works, and a very, very small increase in sending traffic to licensed offerings -- but that only lasts until alternatives come along, usually within weeks.
The overall impact on stopping access to unauthorized videos? Basically none whatsoever. And, by scattering users out to a variety of new sites, it made it even harder for the industry to track what people were doing. In the case of Kino.to, it took all of four weeks for people to find new places to go:
The results from our empirical analysis show that the shutdown of kino.to led to a
significant but short-lived decrease in the usage of unlicensed video streaming websites.
Unsurprisingly, this effect is particularly large for individuals who were using kino.to
previous to its shutdown, with decreases of more than 30% in overall piracy consumption
during the four weeks directly following the intervention. We nevertheless observe that
consumption of pirated content increases again following the fourth week after the shutdown.
This increase is driven both by substitution towards existing alternative unlicensed
platforms and by the entry of new platforms following the shutdown.
You can see how this works pretty easily in the following graph. Yes, there's a very brief decline in unauthorized streaming, but then it goes right back to about the same level... and appears to be generally climbing upward:
As for helping convince the users to suddenly start paying for content? A tiny, tiny effect that also does not seem to last:
Second, we find limited substitution into consumption of licensed offline video content,
proxied by visits to specific types of websites. Our results show that consumers do not
increase their visits to websites of movie theaters or to DVD-related Amazon webpages.
However, we find a small increase in clicks to licensed online video services (such as Maxdome,
Lovefilm, and iTunes) after the shutdown, providing evidence that the intervention
was successful in converting part of kino.to's users toward legitimate video consumption.
Perhaps more importantly, we also find that heavy kino.to users disproportionately
increase their visits to websites of licensed video services. This substitution was nevertheless
undermined by the existence of alternative unlicensed streaming websites, which
allowed consumers to rapidly transfer their consumption of copyright infringing videos
from kino.to to other platforms. In particular, we document a large increase in clicks
to the second-most popular platform - movie2k.to - directly after kino.to disappears.
Only five weeks after the intervention, we also observe the entry of a new platform -
kinoX.to - which manages to quickly appropriate a significant share of the unlicensed
video streaming market at the expense of movie2k.to and the other smaller platforms.
These results reflect both the high elasticity of supply to the shutdown, and the fact that
consumers face little difficulty in switching from one platform to another.
And, the end result is the basic hydra effect, where the audience fragments:
Third, we assess how the shutdown affected the overall structure of the market for unlicensed
video streaming. While the market was largely dominated by kino.to before its
seizure, the intervention triggered an increase in competition between alternative platforms,
ultimately resulting in a much more fragmented market. After the shutdown, the
market was evenly split between movie2k.to (the second largest player at the time of
the shutown), kinoX.to (kino.to's substitute), and a remainder of 12 websites which
cumulatively account for one third of the market. We also observe that concentration
of demand decreases after the shutdown, and that consumers diversify their unlicensed
movie consumption more as opposed to concentrating it on a single platform.
Again, you can see the impact of this hydra effect right here:
Some may argue that this is the intended impact, and that if these sites have a smaller audience it makes them less sustainable, though there's little evidence to support that.
It seems that a much clearer message from this study is what many of us have been saying all along: taking down sites does not change what people want. And if the industry itself is failing to serve the public and music and movie fans in a compelling and convenient manner, then other providers will come in and do it instead, whether or not it's legal. And that's where the audience will go. The more the industry fights against this, the harder it becomes for the legacy industry to figure out ways to work with the leading providers to build a legitimate service. Instead, it just pisses off people and sends them further and further away. That can't be good for business.
Given that, it seems like it would make a hell of a lot more sense for the industry to focus on providing what people want rather than wasting so much time, effort and money into trying to shut down the sites they don't like.
When the entertainment and broadband industries' "six strikes" anti-piracy regime first launched a few years ago, most people (outside of Hollywood) realized it wouldn't work for a number of reasons. One, data has pretty consistently shown that such graduated response anti-piracy systems -- whether three "strikes" or six -- don't work, and in fact may actually make things worse. Two, even partner ISP execs I spoke to ahead of the program's launch made it clear they knew the program wouldn't do much, with most infringers simply hiding their behavior behind proxy servers of VPNs.
Publicly, the firm created to run the program (the Center for Copyright Information) has frequently tried to claim the program is a smashing success, often using unreliable, contradictory evidence to try and suggest pushing ISPs into the role of content nannies was a wonderful idea. But privately, Hollywood and the MPAA have acknowledged the program isn't doing much, though they're quick to argue that this is only because it hasn't yet been "brought up to scale."
Amusingly, some of the very same Hollywood voices that pushed so hard for six strikes and ignored warnings that it wouldn't work, are now calling the program an abject failure. The Internet Security Task Force, a coalition of smaller studios, which counts copyright troll Voltage Pictures among its members, has come out swinging this week against six strikes in a press release, calling the program a "sham":
"We’ve always known the Copyright Alert System was ineffective, as it allows people to steal six movies from us before they get an educational leaflet. But now we have the data to prove that it’s a sham," Gill comments. "On our film ‘Expendables 3,’ which has been illegally viewed more than 60 million times, the CAS only allowed 0.3% of our infringement notices through to their customers. The other 99.7% of the time, the notices went in the trash,” he adds."
One, ISTF doesn't appear to know how the program Hollywood pushed for actually works, since users receive an "educational leaflet" the first time they're found to infringe. Steps two through six then include "mitigation measures" that may involve having your connection throttled or finding your broadband access temporarily suspended until you've clearly acknowledged you've been naughty. Users then have the honor of paying a $35 fee if they'd like to fight the accusation. After the sixth strike nothing happens, and nobody tracks offenders between ISPs, something Hollywood is surely eager to "remedy" with program updates.
ISTF notes that the five major ISPs participating in six strikes (AT&T U-verse, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS), saw a 4.54% increase in infringements during the fourth quarter of last year. Two non-participating ISPs, Charter and Cox (the latter of which is being sued by BMG for allegedly ignoring piracy), saw a 25.47% decrease in infringements during that same period. Assuming you can trust Hollywood math here (never a wise bet), the ISTF claims this is proof of the fact that ISPs aren't taking piracy seriously:
"These alarming numbers show that the CAS is little more than talking point utilized to suggest these five ISPs are doing something to combat piracy when in actuality, their customers are free to continue pirating content with absolutely no consequences," said ISTF member Nicolas Chartier, CEO of Voltage. "As for its laughable six strikes policy, would any American retailer wait for someone to rob them six times before handing them an educational leaflet? Of course not, they call the cops the first time around."
Of course if non-participating ISPs are seeing infringement drop massively while participating ISPs are seeing a slight rise, that would seem to suggest that graduated response programs actually make things worse, which is what data Hollywood ignored said in the first place. The ISTF's solution for the States is to implement an uglier version of Canada's Copyright Modernization Act, which gives ISPs safe harbor only if they agree to pass on all infringement notices. While the Canadian law caps damages, it hasn't done much to thwart copyright trolls, who appear to just be making up for the income reduction by shaking down Canadian users on greater scale.
While these smaller studios are solely focused on greasing the rails for their "settlement-o-matic" shake downs, it's only a matter of time before the MPAA and the larger studios start pushing for "improvements" to six strikes as well, whether that's an organization that tracks offenders between ISPs, or a frontal assault on VPNs and proxy services. And that's just it, these studios consistently whine about the need for aggressive enforcement policies that have been proven not to work, and when they fail the answer isn't adaptation of the business models to the modern age, it's an expansion of already-bad ideas that clearly aren't working. It's a bottomless well of dysfunction. Unfortunately for Hollywood, any expansion of six strikes is going to have a steeper uphill climb in the post SOPA era, which may hinder the program from mutating into something truly monstrous.
As the nuclear talks between America and Iran continue, perhaps one inevitability is going to be cross-cultural diffusion of a kind. After all, should the deal lead to improved relations, one would expect influence to be peddled by both sides. Since there are very real issues our two nations have to discuss, this should be an overall good thing. But there are some cultural changes that just aren't going to happen.
Take the suggestion from Iranian cleric Ayatollah Salman Safavi, for instance, that Americans combat Islamic extremism by making sure our movies and video games include only favorable representations of his religion lest they cause the very radicalization at the root of the "constantly" negative current portrayals of Muslims and Islam.
"In the Western media be it in films, games or news, Muslims and Islam are constantly associated with terrorism, violence and backwardness, they are constantly portrayed as the "other" to the white European or American and in constant conflict with it," Dr. Safavi tells the Telegraph. "This causes alienation and isolation particularly for young people, who dream of having success in life and being contributing members of society but see their way of life, their beliefs, and what they hold sacred being constantly attacked and degraded. Islamophobia in media be it films or games or news should be considered as promoting and aiding terrorism and also being [a] hate crime."
You can see the cultural differences clashing against each other here. Self-censorship isn't how America does things, after all. Which isn't to say that misrepresentation of the larger Muslim public isn't a real thing, or that action shouldn't be taken by those in the know to combat that portrayal. But those actions must operate within the framework of free and open speech. Take the work of Aasif Mandvi, for instance. The correspondent from The Daily Show has put out a new series called Halal in the Family. The show dissects and highlights anti-Muslim portrayals, using comedy as a vehicle for the discussion. That's how bad or unfair speech is combatted in America, with other, better speech. Asking us to self-censor is a non-starter.
And through real, honest, and open speech, progress can be made. If the Islamic world is being unfairly portrayed, its denizens should feel welcome, if not obligated, to step into the ring of speech and ideas, and put up a fight. They get the same rights as everyone else, after all. Engaging in that way will push the discussion onto a higher platform. It's not like the media keeps its boogeymen around forever. Just ask the Communists. These things have a shelf-life.
The ideal of free speech, on the other hand, does not.
As you may recall, at the height of the SOPA fight fallout, MPAA boss Chris Dodd went on television and threatened to stop funding the politicians who didn't support the MPAA's copyright agenda:
"Those who count on quote 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake."
Given that statement, this little tidbit from the Sony email archives is interesting. It's Chris Dodd more or less demanding that all of the member studios donate $40,000 to Rep. Bob Goodlatte's re-election campaign. As you may know, Goodlatte is the head of the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives, and copyright falls under that committee. Even more to the point, despite the fact that there's an "Intellectual Property Subcommittee" (headed by Rep. Darrell Issa), Goodlatte has made it clear that copyright reform remains under his own personal mandate. In this email, Dodd notes that Goodlatte is coming to LA and there's a fundraiser -- and he asks each of the member studios to see if they can put together $40,000 for Goodlatte's campaign:
Subject: Goodlatte Victory Committee
As you know, for a number of months we have been discussing the political event that Chairman Goodlatte has asked our industry to host in Los Angeles. The event has now been scheduled for November 22. A copy of the invitation is attached. The Goodlatte staff is currently securing a location and I will send that information as soon as it is confirmed.
The event will be in support of the Joint Committee established by the Congressman called the “Goodlatte Victory Committee.” This event is important and in the best interests of our industry.
A number of you have had an opportunity to speak directly with the Chairman in the past few months, and I know you share my view that he is a good man and we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the House Judiciary Committee for the foreseeable future.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE and it is now incumbent upon us to work together to make this event a success. I need each of you to commit to attending the event and I would request that each studio raise $40,000 for the Victory Committee at this event.
So, please confirm that you plan to attend on the 22nd in Los Angeles, and that you will meet the per studio target of $40,000. It is incredibly important, in my view, that this event be a success and that we have a broad representation of studio executives in attendance. I will reach out to you later this week, but look forward to hearing from you in the meantime.
Now, to be clear, this sort of thing happens all the time. It's more a function of how money in politics works today. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that plenty of other companies in other industries do the same sort of thing -- though, generally speaking, it would be done by the companies themselves, not at the direction of a trade organization. Still, it's a bit of insight into how the process works that I figured some of you might find rather revealing.