The Role of the US Government and Online Piracy Essay

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been aiding entertainment in this country for almost 90 years. In 1922 it was created under the name The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America in order to protect films from government censorship. Initially the organization acted as a sort of watchdog, by refusing to let any “offensive” material into movies whatsoever. However, in the late sixties the MPAA developed the rating system, allowing much more freedom of expression for filmmakers whilst also maintaining a way to inform people on the content of any given movie. More recently, the Internet has created positive opportunities for movie viewers yet challenging battles for the movie industry. Illegal downloading and streaming has swept the world in a tidal wave and cost Hollywood large sums of profit. The MPAA is currently working to end this copyright theft.

Although the public does not generally consider pirating the same as stealing, it is; and it impacts our economy in the same way other theft does. The American film industry supports over 2.4 million jobs and 140 billion dollars in wages. In just one day of shooting our economy gains $225,000 in local profit. In New Mexico alone the industry provides 4,055 jobs and $146.8 million in wages. It also accounts for 15.7 billion dollars in public revenue through federal taxation. Although these are tough economic times even for a successful industry like Hollywood, they cannot compete with free illegal alternatives such as torrent sites. In 2005 the estimated total loss due to pirating is around $22 Billion (Castro, 1). This loss in revenue impacts everybody from actors to technicians to consumers. Because in order to compensate for money lost due to pirating, legitimate legal companies must charge more for the use of their products. So even though someone who downloads a movie illegally may not have to pay for the film directly, he/she is helping to bring down the economy piece by piece and will eventually become monetarily affected by his/her own choice at some point down the line. People need to understand that file sharing is both economically unwise and ethically very questionable.

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After the market crash in 2008, the entertainment industry took a dive as well. However, January of 2009 yielded surprisingly high profits for box offices across the country. Due to an unusual $1.3 Billion movie ticket return in a single month, congress justified eliminating $246 Billion in tax breaks for all film projects after February of 2009. A spokesperson from the MPAA, Angela Martinez, claims that the film industry needs the tax breaks just as much as others do. She said, “There is no doubt that the motion picture industry is a vital component of the American economic engine, generating billions of dollars every year in state and federal taxes and employing workers all over the country” (Puzzanghera, 1). With the repeal of these beneficial tax cuts, the financial weight of illegal pirating feels heavier than it ever has. For this reason the MPAA dedicated the latter half of 2010 to pushing S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), through congress.

This bill would shut down, “‘Internet sites dedicated to infringing activities’ which it defines as a site that is ‘primarily designed, has no demonstrable, commercially significant purpose or use other than, or is marketed by its operator…to offer’ unauthorized access to copyright-protected content” (Castro, 2). The Bill, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy in September, has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar and currently has 18 co-sponsors. Along with a number of other film organizations, the MPAA wrote a letter of encouragement and gratitude to Senator Leahy, thanking him for placing copyright protection in high importance. “We commend you for your efforts to carefully craft S. 3804 to adhere to constitutional requirements that protect free speech and provide appropriate due process for all affected parties. We thank you again for your tireless efforts to protect workers, businesses, and consumers, and look forward to continuing to work with you and your Senate colleagues to enact strong legislation aimed at addressing rogue websites” (MPAA).

Senator Leahy introduced the Bill to the Judiciary Committee, of which he is the chair, and received unanimous support for it by his colleagues. According to a release by the MPAA in November Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah has also been a significant leader in pushing for this bill. He sits on the Judiciary Committee alongside Sen. Leahy as its senior Republican member. He said, “This legislation is critical to our continued fight against online piracy and counterfeiting. By coordinating our efforts with industry stakeholders and law enforcement officials, we’ll be better able to target those who are profiting from illegal activity” (Traverse Legal). Sen. Hatch’s support for this bill is due partly to Senator Leahy’s efforts to making this a bipartisan endeavor. I think that if the two of them can get S. 3804 to appear as an American problem, instead or a Democratic or Republican problem, they have a bigger chance at successfully pushing it through congress. Hatch’s constituents must not have a problem with Internet censorship even though most Republicans are completely against the Bill.

The Democratic Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon voted against COICA and has since halted it in its tracks. His decision to do this has ended the Bill’s possibility for enactment this lame duck session. He claims that the Bill is dangerous in that it could lead to complete government control of the Internet. He stated, “It seems to me that online copyright infringement is a legitimate problem, but it seems to me that COICA as written is the wrong medicine. Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile” (Stone). Wyden was re-elected during the mid terms and could very well lead an anti-COICA regime in the 112th congress. He will be among many Republicans who appose government intervention and is a potential threat to this Bill. Because of this obstacle I think it would be a good idea to amend S. 3804 to prevent possible manipulation of it’s power. If the Bill more clearly specified the type of online sites it has the authority to shut own, people would feel much more comfortable with it’s reach.

If COICA can be modified to an extent that the public is no longer concerned with the Justice Department’s control of the Internet I think it will pass. Because once freed from the “evil federal grab for power” context, it truly is a bipartisan issue. And in a congress consisting of a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, bipartisan legislation is the only type that has a chance at passing. Despite the Republican takeover of the mid-term elections, the movie industry and Sen. Leahy can paint COICA in way in which it will be received by all.

President Obama has repeatedly said that he supports a “free and open internet,” which theoretically means that he would not support a Bill like COICA. But he has not made any type of statement whatsoever regarding the Bill directly. In response to problems of censorship imposed by broadband providers (i.e. Comcast) in 2009, the Obama Administration enacted an Open Internet crusade led by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Obama gave the FCC the responsibility to install several rules on broadband providers that force them to be non-discriminatory and completely open in their regulation of online traffic. In his description of these rules he said, “The first says broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.

The second says broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices. These principles would apply to the Internet however it is accessed, though how they apply may differ depending on the access platform or technology used” (Obama). So it appeared he was saying that there could be no censorship at all in order to preserve a free and open web… a policy that would be principally antithetical to COICA. But then he goes on to say, “Of course, network operators will be permitted to implement reasonable network management practices to address issues such as spam, address copyright infringement, and otherwise ensure a safe and secure network for all users” (Obama). There he did cite copyright infringement as a problem that “of course” needs to be addressed.

I believe Obama’s choice to publically promote Open Internet before backing a piece of legislation like COICA, was a good one. The President understands that the media and the people see COICA as a grab for power and control instead of what it really is… an advancement of justice. Strategically, he needs to show America that he supports and protects free enterprise before he can safely endorse this Bill.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, seems to be acting as Obama’s puppet in this endeavor by using the same rhetoric and diction. This makes his personal motives and priorities hard to identify. We do know however that he is very well educated and experience in law and business. He graduated in 1985 from Columbia University with a BA in History magna cum laude, and from Harvard Law School in 1991 with a JD (also magna cum laude). While at Harvard he edited the Harvard Law Review, which was then headed by Barack Obama… After his schooling, Genachowski clerked for judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals as well as the Supreme Court.

He later became Chief Council to Reed Hundt while working for the FCC whilst also working his way through the business world. He has been serving on Boards of Directors for many different corporations on-and-off for over ten years. Some companies include: Ticketmaster, Expedia, Mark Ecko Enterprises, and JackBe. He assisted Obama on his presidential election campaign as “chairman of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications Policy Working Group, which created the Obama Technology and Innovation Plan” (Julius Genachowski). Obama appointed Genachowski Chairman of the FCC upon his election. Thus, considering all the presented information, it is safe to assume that he is very closely knit to the President and will work with him to accomplish his policy decisions. Therefore I believe it can be said simply: if Obama endorses COICA, so will Genachowski.

I think Obama and his Administration understand that combating piracy does not have to infringe on legal Internet activity. However, if the media does not perceive COICA as a necessary Bill with a single purpose of halting American copyright infringement, it doesn’t have a chance.

Washington has perceived the entertainment industry as insignificant for a long time. Politicians don’t see Hollywood as a constituent that needs to be prioritized, as observed from the 2009 tax cut repeals. But if the public understood how many jobs and just how much profit the movie industry produces, politicians would change their minds.

With $5,000,000 we can devise a media campaign that will convince Americans that the success of the economy is dependent on the movie industry’s prosperity. Especially in this time of economic distress, people need to see how many jobs our industry provides for them and how much it fuels the economy. Then they will see movies as an economic asset as well as just entertainment. This can be accomplished by publicizing the amount of revenue that Hollywood rakes in each year, how that money is distributed, and how it affects local communities. On the MPAA website there is a goldmine of useful information that needs to be better showcased… if people saw, for instance, just how many jobs are provided to their state by the movie industry, they would see it as worthy of their support.

Like the equality symbol created by the Human Rights Campaign, we will need a logo and/or slogan that can rally support. Something that portrays a fair give-and-take, communal relationship, would be effective. It needs to clearly convey how Hollywood and the general public are in the same boat. One possibility is that we list three values (for example: justice, prosperity, and laughter) that everyone cherishes, and use them to connect with Americans. If we advertise that the movie industry cares about righteousness, prosperity, and enjoyment & laughter just like the public, it draws us nearer to them. We just need to hire someone who can fit all this into a simple logo and phrase. Once people feel more united with the movie industry they will start to see the industry’s problems as their own problems. This will then have them turn to the Government for change, and Washington will have no choice but to join the party.

Because we want to come across as warm and familial, this campaign should paint heroes instead of villains. This will inspire a more positive ambiance. Both Senator Leahy (Dem.) and Senator Hatch (Rep.) need to be exhibited as noble frontiersmen who dared to go against the grain by supporting an unpopular bill that is actually both just and economically wise. The publicity of both of them is important because it will hopefully depict this as a bipartisan issue, which is very necessary as I said earlier.

In a letter to constituents Sen. Leahy stated, “Each year, online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods cost the American economy billions of dollars. This is unacceptable in any economic climate, but it is devastating today” (Leahy). This quote shows that the Senator is helping to improve economic conditions as well as stop criminals from stealing by fighting copyright infringement. He is a leader who is doing what is right and what is beneficial for the American people. And Sen. Hatch legitimizes Leahy’s authenticity by supporting COICA even though he is a Republican—this is the message people need to get about the two of them.

One of the biggest disadvantages of this bill is that it was introduced by a Democrat and therefore appears as a “Big Government Power Grab” to right-wingers. There are already countless numbers of Op-Eds on conservative websites speaking out passionately against COICA. Although Senator Hatch’s support could be helpful and serve to rally moderate republicans, it may also turn out to be the end of his congressional career. Due to the influence of the Tea Party (and other such groups) Republicans have become increasingly more anti-Democrat. If Republicans decide to unanimously appose the bill, Hatch may be deemed a traitor… as Hollywood might as well. What we truly do not want is for the movie industry to be associated with liberals and socialists. This would cut our support in half and render our “we’re all in the same boat” campaign useless. To prevent this tragedy, we need to make the purpose and limitedness of COICA 200% clear. Through press coverage (TV, Newspapers, Online News, etc) we must convince the public that anyone who calls it a radical Internet censorship Bill is an uneducated extremist. However, it is not that easy to convince 300,000,000 people of one thing. But one can try.

We also have to be wary of any big celebrity news that might take away from the new image that we’ll be projecting. Popular actors and celebrities need to be viewed as civilized and moral people in order to create and maintain a communal/familial reputation. If too many dark headlines surface about nasty divorces, drug addictions, and domestic violence outbursts (etc.) within the LA showbiz community, Hollywood will of course be labeled accordingly. This cannot happen if we want to ally with the general public (a.k.a. the middle class). As of now the movie industry has a decent vantage point. We are lucky to live in a society in which the average income people do not despise the rich and famous. But they will if they have a good reason to.

Regardless of how COICA ends up, I am sure we will be seeing some government action against copyright infringement before the end of the decade. There is just too much money being lost for Washington to lend a blind eye. However, the movie industry has never been pitied by congress and I doubt that will change anytime soon. Unless Hollywood can really manifest this new persona that is described earlier, we can expect treatment similar to the 2009 tax cut repeals in the future. So lets step up to the challenge and show America the value of motion pictures! Lets prove to the powers that be that our industry is truly an asset worth protecting. Just as movies made in the U.S. provide over 2.4 million people with well paying jobs, they also spread joy to billions of viewers around the world. The effects of cinema reach far beyond the pocketbooks of producers and the fame of movie stars in Los Angeles. It is an industry that affects everyone in one way or another and unites us through imagery and storytelling. When whole world was watching Avatar… we were all sharing that experience.

Works Cited

“History of the MPAA.” Motion Picture Association of America. Web. 14 Dec 2010. <http://www.mpaa.org/about/history>.

“The Economic Contribution of the Motion Picture & Television Industry to the United States.” Motion Picture Association of America. Web. 14 Dec 2010. <http://mpaa.org/policy/industry>.

Puzzanghera, Jim. “Senate cuts movie-industry tax break from stimulus bill.” Los Angeles Times, 2 Feb 2009: 1-2. Web. 14 Dec 2010. <http://articles.latimes.com/2009/feb/04/business/fi-movies4>.

Castro, Daniel. “Better Enforcement of Online Copyright Would Help, Not Harm, Consumers.” Motion Picture Association of America. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, 10/2010. Web. 14 Dec 2010. <http://mpaa.org/policy/industry>.

United States. S.3804. Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 2010. Web. 14 Dec 2010. <http://www.thomas.gov/cgibin/bdquery/D?d111:1:./temp/~bdc0A0::|/home/Leg slativeData.php|>.

MPAA. Message to Patrick Leahy. 21 Otc. 2010.

E-mail.

“United States Proposes Legislation to Regulate Use of Domain Names for Illegal Activities.” Traverse Legal 22 Sep 2010: n. pag. Web. 16 Dec 2010. <http://tcattorney.typepad.com/domainnamedispute/2010/09/proposed-coica-bill- could-allow-us-government-to-shut-down-domains-within-the-states-and-abroad- susp.html>.

Stone, Michael. “Oregon Senator Ron Wyden saves Internet from censorship bill COICA.” Examiner.com Portland 20 Nov 2010: n. pag. Web. 16 Dec 2010. <http://www.examiner.com/progressive-in-portland/oregon-senator-ron wyden-saves-internet-from-censorship-bill-coica>.

Obama, Barack. “The Open Internet: Preserving the Freedom to Innovate.” 21 Sep 2010. Address.

“Julius Genachowski.” Wikapedia. 2010. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Genachowski>.

Leahy, Patrick. “Patrick Leahy Supports Internet Censorship .. COICA.” activepolitic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Jan 2011. <http://activepolitic.com:82/blog/2010 17/ Patrick_Leahy_Supports_Internet_Censorship_.._COICA.html>.