One week ago, in the wake of a massive black-bar protest by several major Internet companies, Congress tabled plans to move forward with the controversial SOPA-PIPA antipiracy bills. It’s merely the latest twist in an ongoing debate which is at the center of the evolving media landscape. The Motion Picture Association of America has been leading the SOPA-PIPA charge, and MPAA chief Chris Dodd was vociferous in his distaste for Congress’ decision to pull the bills. EW spoke to Michael O’Leary, Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America, about how the MPAA sees the future of antipiracy legislation, and why Hollywood and the tech community should work together, not against each other. (Warning: Thomas Edison makes a cameo appearance as a topic of conversation.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Major internet companies and plenty of people in the online community were up in arms over this legislation. From your perspective, where does this negative response come from?
Michael O’Leary, SEVP for GP & EA, MPAA: I think it’s not a big secret that that was driven mostly by Google. When this debate moved from Congress to the Internet, they control the platform there. They control the means of communication in that space. They used it without any discretion or without any restraint. What you had was this campaign of misinformation which, frankly, caused the reaction that you saw. I don’t think from our perspective there’s any big mystery where this came from.
It seems like there are essentially two distinctive branches of the media going to war over this: Hollywood, which is a system that’s been around for a very long time, and someone like Google, whose entire business model is very new and didn’t exist more than a decade ago. Is it fair to characterize this as a corporate generation gap?
I think, frankly, that’s the easy solution. The truth of the matter is that there’s no reason these two industries can not only coexist but thrive working together. If you look at the situation in the United States right now, we’re limping through our third year of recession. Unemployment’s hovering at 9 percent. And you’ve got two significant economic communities: the technology community, and the entertainment industry and the consumer goods industry and everyone else in our coalition. At this time what we need is for those sectors of the economy to work together. Having them at war not only doesn’t serve their specific purposes. It’s a drag on the U.S. economy.
The general consensus seems to be that PIPA and SOPA may have gone too far. Going forward, would the MPAA like to work on figuring out a compromise with the companies that were protesting against the bills?
That’s a difficult question. The truth of the matter is that even before those bills were introduced last summer, we were pretty clear – and we were pretty consistent about this through the whole process – that we were willing to talk to people who were interested in trying to find constructive solutions. I think that what happened last week wasn’t really about the deliberative process and about finding solutions. It was more about just stopping these bills and doing nothing. There really wasn’t any room to negotiate or any room to discuss anything.
Having said that, we’re focused on looking forward and not looking back. If there are parties out there that are sincere in wanting to deal with the problem of people stealing, we are willing to sit down and address the legitimate concerns they have – and develop ways to account for those – that still allow us to deal with these bad actors.
Could you walk me through the actual mechanism that the MPAA would like to see created by the proposed legislation? Let’s take a site like Megaupload – would a studio see some illegal video and then make an immediate move to have the site shut down in the U.S.?
I think that there are some key elements in your description which are inaccurate. It’s not simply seeing a video on the site. You look at the entire site and make the determination that it is a site dedicated to stealing content. Under the bill, you’d have to go to court and prove that to a neutral judge.
The other thing that you said – which everybody’s been saying, but it’s not accurate – is we’re not shutting down any of these sites. There’s nothing in either of these bills that would have shut down a site. What it would have done – once the attorney general or a private party had an order from the court that these sites were engaging in illegal activity – would have allowed us to tell the payment processors, the ad brokers, and the search engines not to transact business with those sites. The site itself would still stay up. They would be unable to conduct business with American consumers.
A slightly larger question, if you’ll indulge me. Many of the original Hollywood filmmakers moved to Southern California specifically because it was very far away from New Jersey, which was where Thomas Edison and the Edison Trust had extremely tight-knit copyrights on the entire filmmaking process. Roughly a century later, Hollywood finds itself in the place of defending itself against piracy. Were those early filmmakers themselves intellectual-property pirates?
It’s an interesting point. That might have been a handful of people acting in a specific way…
Some of them went on to become the heads of the major Hollywood studios.
Well, they weren’t the major studios at the time. They were basically just a group of guys. There’s a couple of things that are different. [Today] this is a core issue which cuts across our economy. It’s not just about movies. It’s about all kinds of consumer goods. And it’s a global problem. What you have out there is a problem of such scope and such breadth. There’s a gentlemen who was indicted this week who made millions of dollars a year simply by stealing other people’s stuff and repackaging it and selling it to others.
Is it similar? Sure. Is it the same thing? It’s absolutely not. The problem we’re talking about today is of a much larger scale. In the hundred years since the example you gave, there’s been an evolution as to the importance of protecting intellectual property, and the need to protect it because it’s central to our economy. So I take your point, but I’m not sure it’s exactly apples to apples.
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