Movie Industry, Minorities Speak on Online Piracy

Movie Industry, Minorities Speak on Online Piracy


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.”


  1. Kudos to former Sen. Dodd for shouting out the real workers of the movie industry. I think the general public forgets that the people who put in the long hours to help make a great film are middle-class folks who operate the cameras, edit the films, create the sound effects, produce and perform the music, and cater to the stars and directors every beck and call.

    Also,the general public (and even some higher in society) forget that most of the money-making innovations and intellectual property we enjoy on television, radio, books, films, sound recordings, and "how-to" or DIY videos on Youtube come from everyday people who have a middle class income, or in many cases come from no money, or became broke to produce IP for others to enjoy.


    It's about time someone, or in this case, some legislation protect the works of our nation's most creative minds, and ensure that they are compensated for their property. It's the right thing to do!

  2. It will be interesting to see what will become of SOPA's fate in the House Judiciary Committee, especially in light of today's developments to delay vote on the legislationl. In the interim, online pirates continue to shamelessly steal! We need real action now!

  3. I live in Los Angeles – entertainment capital of the world – and most of my friends work in the industry. There is inherent uncertainty with regards to job security in the entertainment industry. So, for people to violate intellectual property laws thus decreasing the profitability of the industry means less jobs and even more job uncertainty for my hard-working friends!!

    Full support for Senator Dodd and his efforts!

  4. It's about time someone stood up for all the people that actually do all the hard work and get paid a small amount to do it, then have the stress of job security. On top of that steal their property.

    Go Senator Dodd!

  5. Great article that breaks down the movie industry into understandable piece so people can see the impact of piracy. What people do in the dark (watch pirated movies) does come to light (broken industry, economy, and people). Can't understand folks feeling "entitled" to have pirated material for their personal enjoyment. It's not yours so stop stealing!

  6. Great piece. Really breaks down who will really lose if Congress doesn't take appropriate action. Like any industry, if you reduce the value of the finished product, you reduce the income and employment prospects of everyone in the supply chain for that product. This is especially true for minority content producers. Its hard enough to get a project developed by minorities the "green light" in Hollywood. If these movies don't make money — the legit way, for those that produced them — rest assured we will see fewer of them.

  7. I don't understand this argument, these middle class workers get paid for doing their jobs. They cater to the set, they get a paycheck at the end of the week, ditto for grips, stylists, etc.

    There income is not dependent on the revenue of the films they work on and clearly movies will never stop being made, so how does piracy hurt them exactly?

    • When people watch pirated material the entire industry suffers. They suffer because less profit mean studios will have less money to make new films. The slate of films being produced each year over the last few years has drastically decreased. Less films mean less of those middle class working opportunities. Most of the middle class workers in Hollywood work "freelance". They work on a project by project basis. Many of these people literally wait by the phones for the next project to drop.

      Less profit = less in the budget to greenlight projects = less of those calls to go to work

      An aside: When studios have less to spend they also choose to make "safe" films that they know will turn a profit. Not only is there less work to go around… piracy also creates an atmosphere of fear.

      People fear making the wrong movies, so they play everything ultra safe. They green light the type of projects that have always turned a profit for them because they just can't afford to take risk. So, piracy also affects artistic evolution as well as the opportunities for different types of stories to get told (maybe YOUR story).

      • Even from a users standpoint it is sketchy. It amazes me that people who use these piracy services aren't more concerned with how their information is being used each time they access the website.

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