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One of the more gripping moments at the Wall Street Journal’s “All Things D” conference last week had to be when an audience member asked Ari Emanuel why requiring AT&T, Verizon and Google to purge their networks of pirated material is any different than asking someone to tear up the road to prevent a criminal from ransacking your house.
“You know something? You need to sit down,” said the co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor. “That’s a bad example. Go sit down and think of something else and come back and I’ll scream at you again.”
While this was great theater, it was also a fair capsulization of how Hollywood and Silicon Valley have interacted with each other on the issue of copyright protection over the last year or so. In other words, like children.
Each side screams at the other about how they’re right and the other side is wrong, and the world will be destroyed if the other side gets their way. Kinda reminds you of Washington, doesn’t it? How far’s that getting us?
When he wasn’t screaming, Emanuel had some solid points: if AT&T, Verizon, Google and their ilk can filter out child pornography, why can’t they do a better job at filtering out stolen content? Why can’t they put in place better safeguards to prevent offshore pirates from easily connecting with American consumers?
The following day, Google Advertising SVP Susan Wojcicki suggested Emanuel was “misinformed, very misinformed” and that Google has already “done as much as we possibly can” by investing a “huge amount” in protections such as Content ID. While she didn’t give a lot of explanation about how Content ID works, Google Video defines it as a tool for allowing copyright owners to “easily identify and manage their content on Google Video. ID files are then run against user uploads and, if a match occurs, the video is disabled and not viewable on the site.”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but Emanuel was talking about Google searches, not YouTube, which even many Hollywood types would agree is not a bastion of copyright infringement these days. So when Wojcicki says pirated content is “not like child porn” because you know child porn when you see it but you don’t know who owns the copyright for a piece of mainstream content, she’s being a tad disingenuous. Try typing”Watch Men in Black 3 Free Online” in Google and check out the top search result at http://www.onlinewatchmoviesforfree.com/watch-men-in-black-3-online-free . You tell me whether or not this smells of copyright infringement.
All they can possibly do? Puh-lease.
On the other hand, when moderator Walt Mossberg appeared to suggest that most people would be willing to pay a la carte for content by Aaron Sorkin, Seth MacFarlane and William Morris Endeavor’s “entire roster of clients”, Emanuel tersely replied: “You can’t watch Homeland and think it’s going to cost you $4.50. It doesn’t happen.”
Well, yeah, it doesn’t. Because Emanuel and studios say it doesn’t. Not because it’s inherently impossible or unprofitable.
What’s needed here is less screaming and more cool, adult negotiation. It really does no one any good — least of all consumers — for each side to be willing to fight to the death for the righteousness of their cause. (Especially since, well, we’re talking about “Men in Black”, not starving children). Is it really so hard to recognize that both sides have a legitimate right to make a profit and to come to some middle ground?
It would make for far fewer entertaining confrontations at conferences. But it might just lead to a solution.
Congratulations, RIAA, for prevailing in a court case that will do nothing to stop piracy and continue to turn the public against you.
The Supreme Court refused earlier this month to hear the case of Joel Tenenbaum, a former Boston University student with a PhD in statistics, who was ordered to pay $675,000 for the crime of downloading 30 songs. If you end up bankrupting him, you’ll get lots of publicity, but not the kind you’re looking for.
I suggest you check with your members’ kids and see how many songs they and their classmates download. Wouldn’t that be a great lawsuit?
Suing the kids who illegally download music is as stupid as suing the people who download content on Androids because Google “stole” Apple’s patents. Apple isn’t stupid. It’s suing Google, not its own customers.
You can argue that Apple, too, is shooting itself in the foot and simply inviting scores of counter-suits, but at least its not hurting its own customer base.
So if you have to sue someone, sue the guys who profit by selling your songs illegally, the companies that maintain massive caches of “pirated” songs, the Internet companies that allow consumers to freely pass songs back and forth, even colleges like Boston University that allowed Tenenbaum and thousands of other students to store and sends songs on their high-speed networks.
That won’t make much of a dent in the piracy problem, either. But beating up a penniless graduate student? C’mon, do you beat up your own kids?
The solution is the same as its been for over 10 years, if you’d just open your eyes. Give people access to anything, anywhere, anytime for a fixed monthly cost (See: cable networks, massive profits of). Give away free or reduced-price concert tickets, access to rock stars, whatever, to keep your fan base engaged. Continue to sell songs to people who want to own. Support free advertising-supported services like Spotify.
You can probably think of dozens more ideas. Get creative. Isn’t that what they pay you the big bucks for?
You’ll end up with massively better profits than you did before those pesky MP3s showed up.
Or you can continue to go after consumers and win the law suits. In which case congratulations soon won’t be in order for you and your member companies. Think eulogies.
Amidst all the news reporting about Dalian Wanda Group Corp.’s proposed $2.6 billion purchase of cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings, one huge irony has gone largely unreported.
China severely curtails the number and nature of the foreign films it imports — 20 last year, and nothing more troublesome to Communist apparatchiks than “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”. And now one of China’s major leisure and retail chains — clearly with the government’s blessing — wants to buy a big American movie chain that this week promoted titles like “The Great Dictator” and “Chernobyl Diaries”?
Given that China has traditionally been branded Public Enemy No. 1 by the MPAA for the blind eye it turns to rampant piracy of U.S. movies, this isn’t something that bears discussion?
There’s certainly a credible argument to be made that, without some kind of parity and protection in our ability to access the Chinese film market, we shouldn’t be willy nilly allowing Chinese firms to buy into ours.
Beyond that, I’d like to hazard a guess as to what’s going on, from the Chinese point of view.
If you’ve spent any time with Chinese government and media industry officials (and I have, although admittedly not over the last year) it’s obvious that they are fundamentally at odds with themselves.
On the one hand, the Chinese government desperately wants to grow its film and television business and has set quotas for these “soft products” to government officials and their industry affiliates. The goal of “taking on Hollywood” is often explicitly mentioned, as if movies were something you could manufacture like solar panels or toys.
On the other hand, the keepers of Communist purity and control are deeply opposed to allowing foreign material into Chinese movie theaters, worrying (correctly) that there’s nothing more subversive than watching films chock full of heroes defying or mocking authority.
And so, China is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. It will sign co-production agreements with studios like DreamWorks or Disney, while carefully controlling what can be made. It will allow investments in American movie chains, but it’s not about to allow “The Great Dictator” to show in the homeland.
If we’re OK with all this, fine. But shouldn’t we be discussing it?
All the hullabaloo about whether the Justice Dept. was justified in suing Apple and five publishers skirts the real issue. The problem here is that both Apple and Amazon are exerting a stranglehold over publishers’ ability to distribute their digital products.
It would be as if they could only profitably sell their books at two bookstore chains. And perhaps there are indeed similarities to the stranglehold Barnes & Noble and Borders exerted over the book business for years; that didn’t turn out too well in the end, either.
It’s hard to blame Apple and Amazon for the state of affairs. They’ve simply taken advantage of a situation where publishers have completely dropped the ball.
The latest salvo comes in today’s Wall Street Journal, which quotes antitrust experts as saying the Justice Dept. had little choice but to sue Apple and the publishers, given the publishers ganged together to fend off Amazon, in violation of U.S. law. The New York Times’ David Carr, by contrast, argued a few weeks ago that suing the publishers while letting Amazon off the hook was “the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil but breaking up Ed’s Gas ’N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead.”
Both viewpoints are interesting but beside the point, at least as far as the survival of the publishing industry is concerned.
Rather than “colluding” with Apple to raise e-book prices, the publishers could have been figuring out how to do their own collaborative ventures. That, after all, is what TV networks did when they launched Hulu. More recently, it’s what Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp and Time Inc. did in launching Next Issue Media earlier this month — providing an array of magazines for one monthly fee, a la Netflix.
Neither of those deals are paragons of success, either. Those same TV networks are having second thoughts about the monster they created in Hulu. Next Issue won’t be going too far until it creates a more compelling value proposition on a platform other than Android. But come on. At least they’re trying, not rolling over completely or Apple and Amazon.
Keep in mind that HTML5 — already used by the Financial Times to kiss off Apple’s demands — allows anyone to essentially bypass Apple’s app store and set up their own virtual storefront. If Apple or Amazon find ways to block you, well, you have your own basis for a federal lawsuit, as locally-owned TV stations had in must-carry disputes with cable companies.
It’s not hard to imagine Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette — some owned by the very media moguls who dreamed up the TV and news deals — coming up with some kind of all-you-can-eat deal for their books. Use your imagination: digital books of the month, all the mystery books you can devour, everything Stephen King wrote, you name it.
Of course, you’d have to do it in such a way that you don’t get accused by the feds of colluding all over again. But surely if bloated TV and media companies can get away with it, publishers could find a way.
In what’s probably a first, the critically panned and three-dimensionally challenged 2010 movie “Wrath of the Titans” will be released this weekend with the 3D equivalent of a fresh coat of paint.
The original 3D was so bad that even an executive for Prime Focus, the company that did the 2D-to-3D conversion, disavowed the results at my 3D-Next conference, claiming the company had been forced to do the work in an unacceptably short period of time.
Prime Focus has again done the conversion work for the film, but with far more care. By all accounts, the mostly male audience will get what they paid for, with spears and ashes flying realistically off the screen.
The interesting question for this weekend is: will audiences go to see the film again simply because the producers got the 3D right this time?
If they do, it will be a powerful validation that audiences remain enamored with 3D — at a time when some critics are calling the technology a niche product and the proportion of box office revenue from 3D is flat or declining.
Certainly audiences won’t go to see “Wrath” because of its slightly retooled plot. Its “stilted acting, wooden dialogue, and chaos-driven plot” earned it a tepid 24% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Media projections have the film doing as much as $50 million in business in its first three days — not enough to displace “The Hunger Games”, but not bad for a 3D retread.