Technology

Chris Dodd Takes His Battle to the People

MPAA CEO says the only way to beat content thieves is to get consumers’ help 6/10/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Members Only: The MPAA Six

The Motion Picture Association of America is a pretty exclusive club, though one whose members represent, according to the trade group, almost 2.5 million U.S. TV and film (and online video) jobs and contribute nearly $180 billion to the U.S. economy annually.

While the National Association of Broadcasters has 7,500 members, the American Cable Association 850, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has 186, MPAA has only six members: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corp.; Sony Pictures Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.; Universal City Studios; and Warner Bros. Entertainment. —JE

A funny thing happened to Chris Dodd on his way to not being
a lobbyist. Despite his original protestations, the former Senator has become
not only a spokesman but also something of a self-described evangelist for the
film—make that content—industry.

Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of
America, last year found himself the commanding general in a civil war of sorts
between northern and southern California—Silicon Valley vs. Dodd's
Hollywood/Los Angeles concerns, respectively—over online content piracy, an
issue that has grown in importance with the move of video content online.

That battle didn't go so well—Dodd suggests it was a 'tsunami' that moved below the radar—but the MPAA regrouped, changed tactics
and moved its focus to consumers and finding areas of cooperation with ad
brokers and websites.

Dodd still bristles at the tactics of some on the other side
of the debate, but he says the focus should now be on consumers and new
delivery systems, not old conflicts.

In an exclusive interview with B&C Washington
bureau chief John Eggerton, Dodd talks about advocating for the industry, media
violence, Aereo and more, though he never strays too far from the issue of
online content and how to serve and protect it. An edited transcript follows.

How should the industry deal with online piracy?
I learned through nine elections that you never stand up and say, "This
election is about me." That was a pretty good formula for a short public career
[Dodd served more than three decades in Congress].

I don't want to dwell on SOPA and PIPA [the Stop Online
Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act-antipiracy legislation scuttled by a big Web
pushback led by Google]. In those days, I wasn't allowed to talk to people I
had spent 30 years of my life with. But it seemed to me that the other side,
cleverly, made the debate about us, about our profitability, our product. The
debate was over at that point. Because the debate is not about us, it's about
the consumer.

I think that what we have been trying to do is say, "This is
about you as a consumer." Yes, it is about our product; it's about our artists,
our creators and the 99% who work behind the camera whose jobs depend upon
this, the 2.1 million people who got up this morning whose jobs depended on !lm
and television and the $15-billion-plus in tax revenue we generate each year in
this country. But it is also about you as a consumer. You deserve a great
product. You like this product. You tell us that every day. When we put out a
good story, well told, you show up.

We need to frame the debate more about the positive things
we do and why piracy really hurts [consumers], in addition to whatever damage
it does to our industry, to independent filmmakers maybe more so than even the
studios, as rough as it is on them. The great director Taylor Hackford makes a
strong point about the ability to attract private equity to independent films.

So we need to engage. And I think we are engaging, in a
positive message about why intellectual property, copyright and piracy are
matters that are not just the concern of the industry that produces them but
the audience that depends on them.

From the outside, the SOPA/PIPA debate looked like a
civil war between Northern and Southern California. Your rhetoric got pretty
heated, and the other side was taking aim as well. Could you have anticipated
the Web pushback or handled it differently?

Having been around [Congress] for 36 years, I never saw anything quite like it.
In a period of seven or eight days you have the unprecedented action where 7 or
8 million e-mails showed up on the computers of members of Congress, 13 million
at the White House. And I don't recall [that passionate a response] on any
issue, including a Mother's Day resolution, where 50% of the U.S. Senate were
cosponsors of a bill. There is a difference between saying you are going to
vote for it and putting your name on it. And within a matter of hours, you were
hard-pressed to find a single name left on that list. This was a tsunami.
[Netflix CEO] Reed Hastings said to me it was almost like a swarm of bees.
We've never seen anything like it before.

In the past, on the issue of copyright and intellectual
property, musicians, artists, publishers and writers would talk and there were
some committee members and staffers who understood the issue. And obviously
there were a few regulatory bodies that were involved in the issue. But the
issue of copyright and intellectual property didn't have any popular audience.

I'll give you an example from years ago. The National
Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were not
endowments at all. [They were] appropriated money. So I thought, "Why don't we
create a true endowment? Why don't we say that at the end of the copyright
period, whatever you decide it would be, there would be a period of say 20-25
years, in which the revenue from otherwise copyrighted material would go into a
true endowment? One generation of artists supporting the next." I got about
four votes for the idea. There was no audience at the time for that kind of
discussion.

You suggested in a National Press Club speech last
October that comprehensive anti-piracy legislation is no longer needed. Is
targeted legislation needed? If not, what is the best approach?
It seems to me that what really needs to happen is what is happening.

Going back to your first question, which is a very good one,
I hope that we are demonstrating a changed approach on this. And that is, let's
ask our consumers, as we have been doing in surveys here, in Europe and
elsewhere, to share with us their views and their thoughts on how they view
this issue. And with 375 online distribution services now available online, the
argument that "I have to do this because there is no other legal way I can get
you this" is becoming less credible.

But we are also talking to ad brokers, we're talking to
payment processors, we're talking to Internet host sites, all of whom say they
don't really want to be involved in lending their names and their credibility
to illegal sites.

It's a lot more complicated to deal with ad brokers than I
thought. I didn't realize the distance between a company that wants to
advertise its product and its broker and where ads get placed. It's not an easy
trail to follow. We are getting a lot of positive response, and a lot of good
memorandums of understanding are emerging to limited success with the payment
processers and Internet host sites as well.

Actually, this has not been successful, regretfully, but I'm
going to work on the assumption that they want it to; otherwise they wouldn't
have proposed it.

For instance, Google is willing to change its algorithms so
that when you and I search for movies, the page that pops up doesn't have five
sites on it that are illegal; rather, it will elevate legal ones, and maybe
even put a Good Housekeeping seal of approval or some identifier for the
consumer because it is awfully hard to detect a legal from an illegal site.

Our copyright alert system is in place and it is showing
some success. There is no punitive reaction to it. It is really letting people
know that you have downloaded an illegal site. I think that is going to have
some positive effects.

You are talking about the "six strikes" program?
Yes.

Do you favor expanding that beyond illegal peer to-
peer file sharing to other forms of piracy?

I think we just want to leave it peer-to-peer at this point. We just started it
in February. We did it with ISPs and tech companies and it took a long time to
get an agreement to go forward. But our surveys are discovering that with the
availability of legal sites at a price point that is affordable, an awful lot
of people will go in that direction.

I looked at something the other day. It's not available yet,
but it's the kind of thing we're all working on. It's where, if you and I went
to an illegal site unintentionally, a pop-up appears and says: "This site is
illegal. If you'd like to see Lincoln, you have four different sites you
can go to to watch the film at this same price point."

The assumption is that when that pops up and you show an
alternative where you can get the same film -- and a better copy of it by the
way, and a legal copy of it, at an affordable price point -- you will take that
simple step to do it. We haven't done that yet, but I like that idea.

Again, this is respecting the consumer, respecting that most
people given good options at affordable prices will make good decisions.

Does it wipe [piracy] out? No. But a lot of it is business-to-
business, a lot of it is chatter going back and forth. The tech community is
not monolithic and they are changing. Google has YouTube, and now YouTube wants
to charge for content. And [there's] Amazon. All of a sudden, you have
something you want to protect and you begin to get a different attitude and you
start talking about the subject matter.

The idea was offensive to me that a responsible company was
allowing the argument to be made that we were against freedom of speech and we
were breaking the Internet. It was just baloney and they knew it. As H.L.
Menken used to say, "When they tell you it's not about the money, it's about
the money."

Who is "they?"
Any one of them who at the time [of the SOPA/PIPA debate] would say, "These
guys want to break the Internet and are against freedom of speech." They knew
these were phony, foolish arguments and it was not an honest debate about what
the effort was, which was to shut down foreign sites that were stealing
product.

The bills may not have been drafted as well as they should
have been, and we should have done a better job of anticipating an argument,
but it didn't make their arguments any more meritorious.

0610 Cover Story Dodd Worth chart


You once said you didn't want to be a lobbyist. Why
did you take the MPAA job?

I'm an advocate for this industry and becoming a bit of an evangelist.

The more I've learned, the more I respect [this industry]. I
say this respectfully, but for years there were only three networks, and the
only way to see a movie was to go to your local theater or come to the MPAA,
unless you knew someone in Hollywood with a home screen. No Internet, no cable,
none of the new technologies that have emerged. So I suppose they probably
didn't feel as though they had that many issues they had to address. And there was
very little discussion about the business of Hollywood. All of the news you
read about Hollywood was the glamour side of it, the Oscar night, the movie
magazines. So I am "Exhibit A." A little more than two years ago, if you had
asked me to have a conversation with you about this [industry], it would have
been a very brief one.

Even though I raised money out there [in Hollywood] as a
candidate through a number of elections.

Also [there's] the long list of films like Gentleman's
Agreement
 or Philadelphia that have done far more
than entertain but change people's attitudes in this country and elsewhere. I
think that is underappreciated in many ways and I feel a passion about
legislators, regulators, policymakers, opinion-makers to understand that, with
all its shortcomings and flaws, this is a very important American industry, and
it deserves a better understanding of how much good it does on a variety of
levels. And to that extent, I have become a bit of an evangelist.

So, did Hollywood
have you at hello?

No, the first few offers they made I said I think you have the wrong guy. But
I got some good advice: If you are going to do something different, do
something very different, and this is very different. I am enjoying the work
and the people I work with. They're bright. They care. They love the product
and they want to do a better job.

Do you at all feel
the shadow of Jack Valenti
, who held this job for 38 years?

I knew him so well. He was great friends with my parents [Dodd's father was
also a senator] and a great friend to me. I used to drive him nuts. I had
fundraisers in California and I didn't go through Jack because I had a lot of
people I knew. But he was a great advocate and a wonderful person. But no, I
don't feel any of that. I would like to think he would think I was doing a good
job.

TV screens are 100
inches, offering HD and earlier VOD windows. What is that doing to the
theatrical distribution model?

Not much. First of all, this is a studio-by-studio issue. There is not an
industry approach on this. It all begins with the supposition that the best
place to see their films is in a theatrical setting, with surround sound, a big
screen, almost a communal environment. That is still the best place. Now,
again, we want people to have access to their product when they want it, where
they want it, how they want it. And the new platforms are emerging by the hour
to give people those opportunities. I mentioned the distribution services that
now exist globally. Again, we have come up with a website (wheretowatch.com)
that lets you find where to see our product legally. So, instead of having a
site that says: "Bad boy, bad girl for watching something illegally," let's
respect the consumer, let's give them a site they can go to. And, by the way,
it has become a very popular site. As you know, there have been various
examples in distribution on how to do this better, and there will always be
testing and trials along the way. But we still begin on the supposition of that
theatrical setting

So you see
over-the-top as a value added?

Absolutely. More people still go to a movie, globally, than go to any other
live audience event combined. Now, in terms of the number of people in the
audience, it doesn't beat watching television at home, but all the other events
you can think of where an audience shows up, movies are still the dominant form
of entertainment, and at an average price point of $7.92

You mentioned
various distribution examples. Where are you on Aereo?
This is not directly in my wheelhouse in a sense. But, obviously, I
support the views of my member studios and other copyright owners that services
should not be able to retransmit content over the Internet without permission
from copyright holders. 

The basic proposition is still a valid one. I mean, you
can't have a value system offline and a different value system online. It just
defies logic. That's not to say you can't accommodate new technologies for
content. There is still a lot of litigation going on, obviously. But at the end
of the day I hope the courts will uphold the principle that those who invest
millions of dollars in making movies and TV shows deserve to be compensated for
their hard work.

Let's talk about
violence for a minute. Do you think momentum in Congress for action is
dissipating, and is that a good or a bad thing?

On a personal note, almost 50 years ago, my father offered the first gun
control legislation in the U.S. Congress, certainly since the 1920's or ‘30s.
Connecticut was the largest gun-producing state in those days, by the way. It
took him eight years and the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and
Martin Luther King Jr. to get a bill passed in the fall of 1968. I did not pay
as much attention as my father did, but was deeply involved as a member in
voting for and supporting legislation.

After [the shooting in Newtown Ct.], this is more than an
abstraction. I happened to have been in that town the night before Dec. 14. I
care deeply about it.

But on the [media violence] issue, you can go back to [Greek
playwright] Euripides. He was run out of town in 300 BC or 400 BC because he
wrote a play people thought was influencing the behavior of youngsters in his
town. Three things to keep in mind, and that is, first, that choice is
important. Our industry produces a product that offers great choice to
consumers. Second, I believe very strongly that we ought to give parents the
tools and the controls that they need to make decisions about what they want to
see, but more importantly what they want their children to see. And third, that
we give them the education necessary to make those good decisions.

Those are the three legs on which we stand. And our rating
system now is 50 years old. It is evolving, never permanent in the sense that
you would not be mindful of what the community standard is, and in a country
this diverse, deciding what the community standard is is damn hard, to put it
mildly.

But it is interesting that the public gives us very high
marks in the surveys we do. I'm not going to say it's perfect. And recently in
the wake of what happened at Newtown, sitting down ourselves and saying, How
can we do a better job on this, we came up with something called "check the
box," which will enlarge the rating symbols and the descriptors in much clearer
language so the people know what is going on. We changed the website so that
people can actually go and learn. If your child wants to go see something, you
can actually be able to determine what they are going to walk into and see.

Do you expect the
bills asking to conduct studies about violent media will make it through
Congress?

People have been studying this stuff forever and we don't mind if people
want to look and study things. I don't see any harm in all of that. But I think
we all ought to be very, very cautious and careful about all of a sudden
legislating content. If you get into that it's a slippery slope you will regret
deeply in my view.

Why did MPAA push
back on changes to the Federal Trade Commission's Children's Online Privacy
Protection Act
?
I don't think it was so much pushing it back as it was the implementation. [MPAA
asked that the changes take effect at the end of the year, rather than the
current July 1 date].

The rules have been established here, and again, I spent
most of my public career on children's issues and an awful lot of legislation
involving kids [Dodd cofounded the Congressional Children's Caucus and was
principal author of the Family and Medical Leave Act]. So I care a lot about it
and the industry does as well, particularly companies like Disney and others. I
pay a lot of attention since so much of their product is geared to children.
And the rule is around and we continue to work closely with the FCC on COPPA.
The logistics of implementing the new procedures can prove challenging and so
we are very much engaged on the implementation phase. But our general
proposition is that we support what they are trying to do. We accept the rules
that have been adopted and we just want to make sure that the implementation
works well.

What
should happen with the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension
and Localism Act (STELA), which Congress must either renew or sunset at the end
of next year?

We're now dealing with satellite, so the world
is different from the days of just purely cable and where retransmission was
hard in certain areas. So, our basic proposition is we ought to be able to
negotiate the best possible price for the hard-working people who produce the
product. That is why we believe that the cable and satellite compulsory
licenses are a historical anachronism in many ways and we're in a different
world today with satellite transmissions. We ought to be able to reflect that
as much as we can. And if they are going to be retained, we think their scope
shouldn't be broadened. Program owners and the people involved should be duly
compensated and that is a negotiable outcome rather than one that is
predetermined with compulsory license. So, we are looking for some modification
of this reflecting the times in which we live.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

Members Only: The MPAA Six

The Motion Picture Association of America is a pretty exclusive club, though one whose members represent, according to the trade group, almost 2.5 million U.S. TV and film (and online video) jobs and contribute nearly $180 billion to the U.S. economy annually.

While the National Association of Broadcasters has 7,500 members, the American Cable Association 850, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has 186, MPAA has only six members: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corp.; Sony Pictures Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.; Universal City Studios; and Warner Bros. Entertainment. —JE

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