Commentary Forum Left, 2/7/12

Dire Straits for Entertainment: A Hollywood Fiction

By Rana Odeh

First, let me make it clear that I do not support any copyright infringements. SOPA and PIPA are not designed to protect intellectual property rights, creativity or artists. They are simply bad laws that jeopardize freedom of expression and the openness of the internet.

We are told by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that online file sharing costs the industry $5.5 billion a year. MPAA and RIAA have been fighting “piracy” for decades. Do you remember those high-tech piracy devices? The cassette and VHS tape recorders? They were supposed to destroy the entertainment industry in the ‘80s. Unfortunately for MPAA and RIAA, the U.S. congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) in 1992, which amended the U.S. copyright law and made it clear that teenagers copying a Madonna K-7 and sharing it with their friends does not constitute copyright infringement.

In 1998, however, the media industry was successful in getting congress to pass the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which criminalized the devices and services designed to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted material, regardless of whether they result in any actual copyright infringement. The DMCA also increased the penalties for internet-based copyright infringements. However, what the DMCA did not do in 1998 is hold online service providers liable for copyright infringements by their users. Therefore, what we are debating today is essentially DMCA 2.0. This is yet another push by the media industry to introduce laws that criminalize all users and service providers without putting the burden of proof on MPAA and RIAA.

Let’s take a quick look at this supposedly “ailing” industry. According to a new study published last week by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, the entertainment industry has grown by 50% in the last decade. The report titled “The Sky is Rising” by Mike Masnick, founder and CEO of Floor64, provides extensive evidence to illustrate that the entertainment industry is experiencing a “true Renaissance era.” According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Masnick shows that consumer spending on entertainment as a percentage of their household income rose by 15% from 2000 to 2008. In the last decade, the entertainment sector employment also grew by 20% (43% of whom identified as independent artists).

According to the MPAA’s own data, box office revenues increased from $25.5 billion to $31.8 billion between 2006 and 2010 (a 25% increase). Financial audits of the industry also indicate that from 1998 to 2010 the value of the worldwide entertainment industry grew from $449 billion to $745 billion. Additionally, from 1999 to 2009 music concert sales in the U.S. tripled from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion. Does this sound like an industry in dire straits to you? This is a very bad Hollywood fiction. It is neither entertaining nor good for business. MPAA and RIAA need to stop whining about new technologies and put more of their energy and resources in developing better business models that are capable of adapting to new market realities.

The DMCA is more than enough to protect the entertainment industry and to enforce copyright laws. In fact, the recent attack on MegaUpload happened without PIPA and SOPA. However, the way the Department of Justice is handling it has gone beyond the DMCA by assuming that all MegaUpload users are committing copyright infringements and by compromising their personal data (personal files, family photos, etc.). This essentially amounts to destroying evidence and destroying the personal property of millions of innocent users. What happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?

Government regulation must be specific, transparent, and enforceable. What SOPA and PIPA are asking for is blanket regulation to offer the entertainment industry an exclusive status that exceeds even national security standards.

We live in a new cultural era of interactive entertainment. Consumers are more than happy to pay $100 to see a great live event or $15 to watch a great movie in the theater, but are less likely to pay $20 to buy an album or a DVD to watch at home. The Netflix and iTunes business models are good examples for Hollywood to follow. The future of the entertainment industry does not lie in Washington DC, but rather in Silicon Valley. Hollywood will be better off following a Silicon Valley business model rather than a Wall Street business model. It is innovation and creativity that have always kept the entertainment industry so refreshing and attractive. Imposing such strict restrictions on the internet will only hurt the industry in the long run by alienating and criminalizing its innovation partners and its consumers.

Rana Odeh is a DCP Debate Forum freelance writer. She holds a BA in English and Philosophy from UD and is currently a graduate student in the ICP Program at Wright State University.  Reach Rana at RanaOdeh@DaytonCityPaper.com or view her work at RanaOdeh.com.

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