from the how-you-get-laws-passed dept
Not all of these are current, of course. Dan Glickman left well before Chris Dodd showed up, for example Still, it does give you an idea of why the MPAA always seemed to get its way with the government.
We’ve been having some fun with the MPAA’s extraordinary cluelessness lately. It started with MPAA communications person Alex Swartsel bizarrely and unfairly attacking GigaOm’s Janko Roettger for daring to point out that an economic downturn (combined with dumb moves by the movie industry) might lead to greater file sharing. Swartsel, a spokesperson for the MPAA, went ballistic, claiming that such a statement was intellectually dishonest and somehow condoned the practice as socially acceptable. Here’s the key paragraph from Swartsel and the MPAA:
We doubt many people will subscribe to the kind of intellectual dishonesty that suggests that it?s fine ? or really, that it?s inevitable ? to steal as a way of saving. But it?s troubling that by suggesting that stolen content available on rogue sites and elsewhere is just another substitute good, Roettgers is tacitly arguing that content theft is legitimate and socially acceptable. Truth is, it?s neither.
And what, specifically, did Roettger say? Here’s the exact quote:
The U.S. credit ratings downgrade, tumbling stocks and international instability have made not just financial analysts nervous this week. Consumers are also starting to wonder whether we?re about to enter another recession. Whenever that happens, people start to tighten their belts and cut unnecessary expenses ? like paying for movies and TV shows. Add in the Netflix price hike as well as new authentication plans from broadcasters like Fox, and you?ve got yourself a perfect storm for piracy.
I don’t see how that’s condoning anything, really. But if Roettger is being intellectually dishonest and saying that it’s fine, well, then that means that the MPAA is also intellectually dishonest and condones piracy. That’s because, as TorrentFreak points out, just a couple years ago, former MPAA boss Dan Glickman said almost the exact same thing that Roettger said:
“This is a high priority issue,” said Motion Picture Association of America head Dan Glickman, who expressed concern that the dire financial situation would make pirated movies more popular on the streets and online.
“If you look at the situation, the current economic crisis makes this problem much more serious than before,” he told a forum.
So, if I’m reading all of this correctly — and I pretty sure that I am — according to the MPAA, the MPAA is being intellectually dishonest in suggesting that “it’s fine — or really, that it’s inevitable — to steal as a way of saving.” Got it.
In the meantime, we’re still waiting for the MPAA and Ms. Swartsel to issue an apology to Roettger, an excellent and fair reporter, who certainly doesn’t deserve the MPAA’s bizarre “blame the messenger and accuse him of supporting piracy” treatment.
Back in October, we reported on rumors that the movie studios were so upset with MPAA boss Dan Glickman that many thought he wouldn’t make it to the end of his contract. While he had said all the usual stuff about “evil piracy,” apparently the studios were upset that he couldn’t stop technological progress with the wave of a magic wand, and wanted someone who would attack file sharing even more aggressively. At that time, the MPAA revamped to focus more on content protection — which is the exact wrong thing to be focused on. They should be focusing on providing increased scarce value that gets people to buy — but instead, they wanted to focus on building up artificial scarcity that technology (and much of the market) will ignore.
Of course, right after the rumors, Glickman came out and announced that he would be stepping down at the end of his contract in September of 2010. So it seemed like maybe the studios would let him stick around to the end, since it was clear he wasn’t coming back. Apparently even that plan has been thrown out the window, as Glickman has now announced that he’s leaving as of April 1 in order to take over Refugees International, which seems like a worthy enough cause.
The real question, though, is who is going to take over, and just how much more of a mess of things will they make. One could hope for more enlightened leadership, that actually focuses on adapting to the modern age, but all signs suggest the studios have no interest in doing that any time soon.
There isn’t a huge surprise in the news that France has once again passed a law to force ISPs to kick accused (not convicted) file sharers off the internet under a draconian “three strikes” system. We all knew this was coming. After the original French three strikes law was gutted as being totally unconstitutional, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who apparently doesn’t believe any such law should apply to him, given his history of mass piracy) insisted that such a law was necessary to defend freedom. Yes, really. And, even as France’s cultural minister was planning to get multiple internet connections just in case he got cut off — while also wishing that his own creative content were “pirated” more often, the French gov’t went back to work on putting in place such a law. The big “change” this time was to give judges 5 whole minutes to rule on file sharers, so that they could say a judge oversaw the case, rather than it just being a random accusation. I’m not sure how due process works with a 5 minute limit… but what can you do.
What’s much more entertaining is seeing how entertainment industry lobbyists are cheering this on. I’m beginning to think that they actually believe that kicking people off the internet will make people buy more of their content. Incredible. First up, the MPAA’s Dan Glickman (who’s being pushed out of his job for being woefully ineffective):
“Today’s decision is an enormous victory for creators everywhere. It is our hope that ISPs will fully honor their promise to cooperate and that the French government will take the necessary measures to dedicate resources to handle the enormous task ahead.”
A victory for creators? Really? By kicking fans off the internet for promoting their works? Yikes. Someone’s out of touch. Then we have Rick Cotton, of NBC Universal, the man who insisted that movie piracy was really harming the poor American corn farmer since people ate less popcorn with pirated movies:
“The French action recognizes that jobs and economic growth in creative industries are under assault by digital theft. We need a safe and secure Internet that enables consumers to access content easily but does not facilitate illegal file sharing that kills jobs in creative sectors.”
Yes, and the corn farmers, too, right? So, if it’s really all about jobs, what about the people kicked offline who rely on the internet for their job? Apparently those jobs don’t matter? In the meantime, it’s already pretty clear from multiple studies that it’s not file sharing that’s “killing jobs in creative sectors” but the inability of executives like Cotton to understand basic economics and business models.
But, honestly, the most guffaw-inducing response to this comes from Tom Sydnor at the Progress & Freedom Foundation. Sydnor, who as you may know, has a long history of making claims that don’t pass the laugh test, has really outdone himself this time (it’s even better than when he accused a college that couldn’t identify accused file sharers of harboring “terrorists, pedophiles, phishing-scheme operators, hackers [and] identity thieves” by giving them a “get out of jail free” card). So what’s his take on kicking people off the internet based on accusations? Well, it’s really about consumer relief. No, seriously:
“As a consumer, I would far prefer the successive warnings that French law would now provide to the sudden financial devastation of the John-Doe lawsuit that American law would now require. I thus urge American internet-service providers and copyright owners to work together to provide American consumers with similar relief.”
Ah, yes, because the only options are to sue everyone or to kick people off the internet? Apparently Tom has such incredibly little faith in the innovation ability of content providers that he assumes that they cannot craft unique and innovative business models that don’t involve suing everyone or kicking people off the internet. How insulting of him towards content creators. Every time Sydnor makes a statement like this and PFF promotes it, it just weakens the work that PFF does in other areas. It’s tough to take an organization seriously that has someone claiming that kicking people off the internet based on accusations of private companies is “consumer relief.”
Jack Valenti ran the MPAA for an astounding 38 years, and was an amazingly effective lobbyist. Listening to pretty much anyone talk about the job he did — whether they were on his side or opposed him — you hear nothing but admiration for his skills as a lobbyist. Of course, he was wrong about almost everything, pointed the movie industry in the wrong direction multiple times, and did a lot more harm than good. He claimed that the VCR would kill the movie industry. He insisted that fair use does not exist. He practically ruined a bunch of movie awards shows by forbidding studios from sending out DVD screeners to the awards judges, since he was afraid they’d put them online. And, of course, he insisted that file sharing was terrorism designed to kill the industry (just like the VCR, obviously).
Still… he was a media and Congressional darling and could talk a great game. Amazingly, when confronted with his “Boston Strangler” comment years later, he actually had the gall to insist he was right about his comments on the VCR — even as the industry was making more than 50% of its revenue on video sales and rentals.
Given all that, you had to imagine that his successor, Dan Glickman would have tough shoes to fill. And, indeed, to date about all that Glickman has done is repeat the same ridiculous claims as Valenti, but without the colorful and charming language. We’ve been hearing rumors for a while that the movie studios have been quite upset about Glickman, and may even look to push him out before his deal is up next year. Greg Sandoval, over at News.com is apparently hearing the same thing, and notes that the studios recently pushed the MPAA to totally revamp its antipiracy operations, upset about the way things had been handled.
Now, if you were hoping this meant that it was going to take a more reasonable stance to online file sharing and new distribution methods… you’d be wrong. Apparently, the complaint is that the MPAA hasn’t done enough, because file sharing has only become more of an issue. It would appear that the studio folks don’t seem to realize that this is inevitable. The answer isn’t to demonize it, but to look for ways to take advantage of it. But, that’s not what they’ve done. They’ve put new folks in charge and decided to stop calling it the “antipiracy” operation. Instead, it’s the “content protection” effort. Both are absolutely the wrong way to look at things. If they’re looking to protect the unprotectable, they are going to fail. Instead, they should be setting up a group that looks at how to use these new technologies to their advantage, rather than setting up a division that pretends it can stop the constant tide of progress.
We’ve been hearing from more and more movie makers who are recognizing how treating their fans right, while giving them a reason to buy is a much more effective means of reaching an audience than starting off on the assumption that everyone is a criminal. The movie business has always been based on selling ancillary products. Marshall Loew recognized this years ago, when he said: “We sell tickets to theatres, not movies.” Yet, for years, the industry has done everything it can to treat its biggest fans like criminals. FBI warnings about punishment before movies. Searching people as they enter a theater and demanding they leave their cameraphones outside. Making the theater going experience less enjoyable. The reason the industry has faced problems isn’t “piracy” but because the studios themselves never learned to treat customers right. Setting up a “content protection” division is like setting up a “performance limiting” group at a car company, or a “picture scrambling” group at a TV company. It’s about purposely limiting what the technology allows and what consumers want. It makes no sense at all.
A bunch of folks have been sending in Wired’s short article claiming that the MPAA is “already lobbying Obama.” And, while I’m certainly never one to suggest that the MPAA isn’t full of sneaky tricks, this is hardly anything to get worked up about. I don’t even understand why Wired posted it, other than to get people angry. The MPAA, like pretty much every major lobbying organization, put out statements congratulating Obama. That’s what you do as a lobbying group, and it’s entirely meaningless at this point. I have no doubt that the MPAA will pull plenty of misleading stunts over the next four years, and most likely will convince all sorts of politicians, including Obama, to put into place bad laws. But a simple congratulations statement from a lobbying group is hardly a sign of impending doom.
It’s no secret that the entertainment industry has some execs who are positively proud of the fact that they’ll sacrifice long-term strategy for short-term gains, but you’d hope that there was someone, somewhere with a powerful position in the industry who would point out why that’s not a particularly intelligent strategy. Take, for example, the MPAA’s position on net neutrality. Last summer, the MPAA sent a letter to the FCC opposing net neutrality on the grounds that it would hinder its anti-piracy efforts. It would appear that the MPAA is getting more vocal about this, as MPAA boss Dan Glickman repeated the charges yet again that net neutrality would harm its business.
Of course, the only way that’s actually true is if the MPAA views the internet as mostly being about piracy, rather than a future distribution channel. Because, as Jon Healy points out in the link above, in a non-neutral internet, where ISPs get to charge extra to heavy bandwidth users, the movie studios are suddenly going to find that it’s a lot more expensive to distribute movies (extremely high bandwidth items) online, since that will be exactly what the tollbooths are set up for. So, in coming out against net neutrality, the MPAA is basically saying that it wants distribution costs online to be higher. Perhaps it’s no surprise. The industry really doesn’t want to embrace the online world, as is quite evident from its repeated half-assed efforts at creating online movie download services. Perhaps Glickman and the studio bosses really believe that they can go back to a world where only the studios control the distribution mechanisms, even if they’re a lot more expensive, cumbersome and inefficient. It does seem odd, though, that any business would prefer that its distribution systems be more expensive and less useful — but that just goes to show you the level of strategic thinking that sometimes goes on in Hollywood.
The entertainment industry has been on a bit of a crusade this year trying to convince ISPs that either they should feel responsible for the fact that people use their broadband connections to share unauthorized content. It started with NBC Universal arguing that ISPs somehow bore the responsibility for policing their networks for others’ content. It’s an odd argument, because most ISPs will admit (in a quiet moment) that unauthorized file sharing had been one of the biggest drivers in convincing people to switch from dialup to broadband. Furthermore, considering that there are some enlightened companies who realize that having your best fans promote and distribute your content can be good for business, it’s impossible for ISPs to know whether or not the content being passed around is being done so with or without the approval of the content holder. In fact, that can lead to situations where content that producers are happy having shared gets taken down against their will.
No matter, though, as the entertainment industry has already convinced the government that its outdated business model needs to be protected, now it’s trying to convince other industries that they, too, spend their own resources to protect another industry’s dying business model. The MPAA’s Dan Glickman, who has had trouble understanding basic economics before, is now trying to convince various ISPs that it’s their job to protect the entertainment industry’s business model. Why? About the only argument he can come up with is that all that unauthorized content is a bandwidth glut: “more and more they’re finding their networks crowded with infringed material, bandwidth space being crowded out.” That sounds nice, other than the fact that it’s not true. So far, not a single prediction that the entertainment industry has made about unauthorized file sharing has come true — and each step they take seems to make things worse. Why would another, totally separate industry, buy into the argument that it, too, needs to drag itself down to protect someone else’s dying business model?