By Kenneth Mallory and DeVan Hankerson
The debate over legislation to prevent online piracy continues to divide the nation.
But, major interest groups like the Motion Picture Association of America express their support for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) currently pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, and its sister bill, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP, or PIPA) Act of 2011, pending in the U.S. Senate.
At a recent event hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP), former U.S. Senator and Chairman and CEO of the MPAA Chris Dodd said that online piracy hurts the movie industry—an industry that provides about 2.2.millions jobs in the U.S. economy.
“For many, Hollywood has a red carpet image, but, in reality, it’s a blue collar business,” Dodd said, also stating that the “average worker in the film and TV industry earns around $55,000 a year.”
According to Dodd, “Most Americans are probably unaware that the vast, vast majority of those 2.2 million jobs in film and television are held by middle-class workers whose names you will never see on a theater marquee, and whose contributions you might not think of when you think of our industry.
“These are good middle-income jobs that are available without advanced educational degrees—exactly the kind of jobs our country is clamoring for at this hour,” he said. “Wherever a movie or TV show is made in the U.S., there is a local lumber yard supplying the material, a catering company feeding the cast and crew, a car dealership providing the vehicles. There are local make-up artists, florists, dry cleaners, accountants, drivers, drug stores, and countless others—small, local businesses that benefit from content production.”
Dodd remarked that blue-collar Hollywood jobs are the ones “at risk” because of pervasive online piracy. He cited national statistics that “nearly one-quarter of all global Internet traffic is copyright-infringing,” stating that this is the primary threat facing the movie industry.
Many on both sides of this debate, as well as most of the people who attended the CAP event, share Senator Dodd’s views that online piracy is a threat to the U.S. economy.
CAP attendee Adriene Jordan, an African American producer at FreedUp Films, LLC, and a former news producer at CBS evening news, emphasized that content creators should be compensated for their work.
“We all love entertainment, and [when] we create that kind of entertainment—our ideas—we should be compensated for them,” she said.
Senator Dodd echoed Jordan’s statements when he highlighted that the motion picture industry consists of mainly middle-class Americans. For example, Jordan stated that in preparation for her $30 million production, she is hiring local businesses to work on the project.
“To the African American community and other minority communities, when Senator Dodd says 2.2 million jobs where people are making an average of $55,000—that’s us,” she said. “That’s the middle class worker. When he’s talking about catering companies—as I undertake this film endeavor shooting in Washington D.C., I’m going to hire ‘Sugar,’ a local catering company, African American owned. I’m going to have hairstylists—African American women; a lot of us are into cosmetology. They’re going to come and be on the film set.”
MaBinti Yillah, former University of Maryland student and Co-Creator and Executive Producer of the up-and-coming live performance streaming DMV Live Radio show, stated that online piracy was “definitely a relevant issue,” particularly because of her experience with intellectual property infringement. She described instances where others in radio are trying to steal the format and name of her show.
Samuel Cooper, former general counsel of the National Cable Telecommunications Association, who was also among the attendees, emphasized the point that online piracy has significantly more negative impacts on independent movie producers.
“The MPAA represents the interests of the six major studios, which is generally inapposite of the interests of independent producers, and so there’s been a friction,” he said. “Independent producers do not have the reservoir of money or political or business clout to navigate through these waters of piracy and it hits them harder, because if you’re an independent and you get something pirated, then quite basically, you’re going to have problems finding investment, because your numbers are different.”
In his statements, Senator Dodd made it clear that the targets of the current legislation should be the most egregious offenders—the foreign “rogue” Internet sites. The scope of piracy and counterfeiting online is quite broad, ranging from media copyrighted materials like movies and music, to bulletproof vests, airplane parts, and prescription drugs.
Several on the opposing side charge that pending legislation threatens free speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution, and risks “killing innovation on the Internet.” Technology companies have also expressed disfavor with the current drafts of the legislation, maintaining, in part, that it would impose “new uncertain liabilities and mandates” in policing rogue sites.
The MPAA CEO countered the idea proposed by many opposing the legislation, stating that it will not jeopardize free speech and innovation, and discussing the close ties between the movie industry and Silicon Valley. “Creative technology and creative content are absolutely essential to each other,” he said.
Dodd also acknowledged that in finding a solution to the problem of piracy, discussions on “how” it should be accomplished should not be trivialized.
Alternative legislation has been introduced supporting the use of the International Trade Commission in an attempt to resolve problems in the initial version of the legislation. In spite of efforts to address the issues in the initial version, concerns remain as to whether some of the opposition to SOPA/PIPA is intended to endanger efforts to curb online piracy.
After the Senator’s remarks, Adriene Jordan offered the following as a suggestion for those who may consider downloading illegal media because their resources are limited:
“Go to somebody’s house who can rent the DVD and watch or just wait. Because you know what? That may have been your aunt who was on that set who did that star’s hair that you want to see for free.”
Leaving the session, political strategist Craig Kirby commented that watching pirated movies could never replace the quality and experience of seeing a movie in a theatre or purchasing it for home viewing.
“Like grandma always said, you just cannot shortcut quality,” he said. “You just can’t do it.”