Cotton Cheers New Anti-Piracy Law

NBCU exec lauds measure as critical to industry's economic growth

In a bad economy, the U.S. can't afford to give away creative property.

So says Rick Cotton, NBC executive VP and general counsel. NBC Universal has been among the most vocal entertainment companies fighting for protecting intellectual property rights for online movies and television programming, particularly important to government efforts to stimulate the moribund economy. So the network was celebrating last week after President Bush signed the Pro-IP Act, a bill that boosts government enforcement of intellectual property crimes.

That signature had been no sure thing after both the House and Senate approved the creation of an IP enforcement position in the White House. That's because the administration saw that as Congress telling the president how to run his office.

But Cotton says the sputtering economy helped fuel bipartisan support on the Hill and the president's decision not to take a stand against it. He talked to B&C's John Eggerton about what the bill means for the industry.

This seems pretty esoteric to the average person. What is the practical effect of this legislation?

This is a major building block in terms of the future of the job-creation capacity of the creative industries and the industries driven by innovation, as we look to recover from the current financial and economic crisis.

So, it's a way to bail out the sinking economic ship?

It is a critical piece of a future economic stimulus approach to the economy. As one looks at economic recovery, everyone shares the view that the U.S. is not a low-cost manufacturing economy. It is an economy whose future job-creation capabilities are driven by U.S. innovation, technical invention and creativity.

That is a shared mission. It has gotten into the [presidential] campaign probably most visibly in terms of green jobs, which themselves will be driven by technical invention. But there are two dozen sectors of the U.S economy that are enormously driven by innovation, invention and creativity. It is that recognition that produced the huge majorities in the Congress and now has led to the president signing the bill.

Does this make it any more likely for somebody on the sidelines or already putting digital content online to do more of that?

This is all part of an evolution. The challenge is to reduce the flood of pirated digital content that is out on the Internet. Reducing counterfeit and illegal material will facilitate the production and distribution of much more of the legitimate content. That is the name of the game. NBCU in particular has seen some very specific and tangible accomplishments in terms of reductions of infringing content on YouTube and video sharing sites, both with respect to the Olympics and, most recently, to Saturday Night Live skits involving Tina Fey's impersonation of Sarah Palin.

Did the technology require you to put your content out there first, after which you really needed this bill as a backstop?

They are absolutely hand in glove. In order for the legitimate sites to flourish, the Internet has to evolve in the video sharing space; specifically, for sites to adopt blocking technology and rapid takedown tools.

So, the key to this bill is that it preserves our access to Tina Fey as Sarah Palin?

I think it is your journalistic judgment that is called for here.