Why Filmmakers Must Stop SOPA

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by Rob Millis
January 18, 2012 8:30 AM
4 Comments
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Update: For more about SOPA please visit these links:

Uk Guardian: Sopa and Pipa would create a consumption-only internet

William Gibson Calls SOPA 'Draconian'

Techdirt: Why All Filmmakers Should Speak Out Against SOPA

Clay Shirky: Why SOPA is a bad idea

For the past three months a couple of dangerous bills have been making their way through meetings on Capital Hill. The Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) have become famous for their dangerously reckless approach to combating online piracy. Worse yet, this legislation will do almost nothing to actually stop piracy but could cripple or crush online distribution.

According to the MPAA and other supporters of this legislation, SOPA and PIPA target “rogue” web sites and foreign entities, but the liability created in these bills is huge for U.S. companies. YouTube, Dynamo, MUBI — almost any online film distributor could be strangled by this legislation. If SOPA/PIPA were to pass, any online service even suspected of hosting any amount of copyrighted content can be effectively shut down within a week.

Make no mistake. I hate piracy. I hate that deserving artists don’t get paid for their work. I hate that studios and distributors are forced to hopelessly accept and account for theft. I hate that sales of pirated goods — from DVDs to handbags — fund some of the largest criminal networks in the world, and support cottage industries of money laundering and human exploitation.

But the proposed SOPA legislation does far more than attempt to curtail piracy. SOPA and PIPA are completely reckless, sponsored by people with no clear understanding of online commerce, online media or the current generation of media businesses. As a result, these bills are like shotgun blasts aimed at a distant fly. While the scattershot hits everything around the target, that fly will continue to be a nuisance.

Worse yet, the most dangerous impact of this legislation is the ability for major studios to crush competitors. Rather than just creating a mechanism to control copyrighted content or penalize the hosts of illegal content, SOPA gives studios the ability to shut down entire sites and systems hosting any amount of copyrighted content on suspicion alone.

Ironically, for all of the big business and quasi-conservative support behind this legislation, it is a prime example of over-regulation aimed at limiting the free market. Executives at the major studios understand that SOPA/PIPA stifles their competition in the name of defending copyright.

As usual, studio support for legislation like this is largely a consequence of corporate fear and laziness. The television and film studios have spent much of the last decade cautiously sitting on the sidelines while the investors and innovators behind YouTube, Blip, MUBI, Livestream, Dynamo and hundreds of others took on disproportionate risk to build a sustainable online media market. Now that the markets are proven and the risk is manageable, the studios are backing legislation that would change the rules of commerce and cripple their competition.

An open, competitive market has always been the lifeblood of independent film and has always been terrifying to the studios. For 100 years studio executives have consistently been too scared about losing some of their dominance to explore new markets in innovative ways. With every new distribution option that independent filmmakers have launched, studio heads have pushed for legislation to either strangle or control it. And as much as I hate piracy, I also hate to see studio executives consistently hiring lobbyists to try and fix their problems after failing to innovate.

To support these efforts the MPAA, RIAA and major studios have all behaved like scared children for so many decades that it is no longer possible to take their Chicken Little cries seriously. We were told that the VHS was going to destroy the industry, but after they were forced by the market to embrace private rentals that market grew to become the largest and most reliable source of revenue. We heard the same story about audio tapes, DVDs, radio, cable television, pay-per-view — every technology that created a new way to reach the audience.

Piracy is a serious problem that requires serious solutions, but combatting technical innovation with aggressive legal attacks has never done anything but cripple the market. The best way to combat piracy is to make it easy and safe for people to pay for what they want. Piracy will always be a risk, but studies consistently show that a majority of people who pirate film and TV programs illegally will happily pay for them when those titles are available online and easy to pay for.

Independent filmmakers understand better than anyone that successful distribution means giving the audience what they want, whenever, wherever and however they want it. As an example of the real value of online distribution, at Dynamo we see video rentals succeed at price points 2-5x higher than Redbox DVD rentals. Yet this legislation could kill the online market before the studios even begin to take advantage of it.

Perhaps the worst of all this is that many supporters of this legislation likely have no idea just how dangerous this attack on online distribution is to their own future. Fearful studio executives are holding onto SOPA/PIPA like a hand grenade glued to their own fingers, but it’s the independent filmmakers who will suffer most when it blows up.

Find out more and contact your representatives here: www.tumblr.com/protect-the-net

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4 Comments

  • Maxim Ford | January 23, 2012 11:57 AMReply

    Quote "Independent filmmakers understand better than anyone that successful distribution means giving the audience what they want, whenever, wherever and however they want it"

    If that is the case the audience should make the film too. The artist tries to say new things, in a new way, and maybe exactly NOT what the audience wants . The is the trouble the Internet companies are destroying massive cultural organisations and methods of work and putting half baked ideas in their play. Crowd funding let morons with moe money than sense decide what films to be made.

  • star jonestown | January 18, 2012 5:42 PMReply

    Wow. This is really disappointing. It's funny that it ends with "combatting technical innovation with aggressive legal attacks has never done anything but cripple the market"... a fact-free assertion.

    A massive coalition is on board to combat piracy, yet this article claims that it's all a studio-led endeavor to crush competition. Competition is important, and a laissez-faire attitude toward piracy has enabled competition to exist at a price point of Zero.

    The music industry struggled for years to combat the theft of their goods. By the time legitimate vendors - who took a big cut - appeared, their entire business had artificially lost half its value.

    I am building a home theater because Blu-ray technology allows for the cinema experience to almost be replicated at home. No matter what johnny-come-latelies claim to have reinvented film distribution, I support the efforts of any trade group that is actively attempting to reverse a culture that has come to believe that movies should be Free All the Time. Being soft on piracy may suit you today, but blaming the creative coalition for finally taking some action after a decade of losses to filesharing is declaring that you no longer want to work side-by-side with union players at reasonable rates.

  • @AudreyEwell | January 18, 2012 11:20 PM

    I'm with Rob here. And Star, I grit my teeth into little pointy sharp spindles every time someone downloads my work for free. I hate the lazy entitled little bastards who watch my film on youtube, at abysmal resolution, all broken up, b/c they're too stupid/entitled to pay to see it on our website, on itunes, on netflix, or on any of the platforms where it's available and where it benefits us. I disagree with Rob to the extent that I don't fully agree that "if you make it easily available at the right price, they will pay" b/c I think a lot of little shits actually don't care about the years I spent making the film, the work, the sacrifice, the love, the fear, the madness, they just want their candy.

    BUT. This bill still sucks. It won't fix those things. And it will make the internet worse. It's a square peg solution to a round hole, and it feeds a backward looking paradigm that's just out of touch and punitive to all: scattershot, as Rob says.

  • Rob Millis | January 18, 2012 10:08 PM

    Star, I don't think we should be soft on piracy at all. My whole point is that "combating" instead of adapting fails every time. The music industry would have been far better off if they had done anything — anything at all — to innovate instead of wringing their hands and filing lawsuits while their sales tumbled. The studios have been doing better this time around (Hulu, for instance), but they collectively lack the fundamental drive to create new solutions when the audience demands them. People will pay for content online, and yet the studios release very, very little to the online rental market, and when the audience can't find it legally, they will find it illegally. My problem with SOPA is that this legislation is aggressively over-reaching, and the studios know it. It cripples the innovators who are building solutions that benefit the studios most. So, yes, go after the pirates, but don't go after the perfectly legal online services that have risen to meet market demand when the studios failed to do so themselves.

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