Hollywood looking to reshape anti-piracy message

Following the stalling of anti-piracy measure Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act in Congress towards the end of January, industry lobbies and entertainment companies are considering revised campaigns to help recast the policy debate and reinforce the message that piracy of music and movies is theft.

“We can’t throw any old message out there. We need to be smart about it — where we put it, how we say it, who says it,” one entertainment industry executive told politico.com. The executive said that lawmakers who supported SOPA and PIPA want “a more robust PR effort from the motion picture industry not only in Washington but outside of Washington to get people to understand why they should care about this issue as consumers.”

The 2011 campaign centred on the preservation of union jobs in the studios, and while that was received well on Capitol Hill, it was less favourably received by the American public, which bought into the ‘anti-censorship’ line promoted by Internet companies and activists, who organised a Web blackout and protest with sites such as Wikipedia, Reddit and Google.

“The story the studios and content industry were selling is not what people wanted to buy,” said Dean Garfield, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council and former Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) executive. “The medium is important, but the message is even more important.”

National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences President and CEO Neil Portnow called on creators, fans and the tech community to work together so that music keeps playing for generations to come. “We take care of protecting the ability of our artists, songwriters and studio professionals to earn a living creating the soundtrack of our lives. Sure, there’s an ongoing debate about how to do that in today’s changing digital world,” Portnow said at the recent Grammy Awards. “But there should be no debate about the need for creators to be fairly compensated.”

Future campaigning is likely to see a more conciliatory approach to Silicon Valley, with entertainment industry executives likely to travel to California to see if they can find common ground on a new bill in Washington.

Although Cary Sherman, Recording Industry Association of America chief executive, has publicly criticised Wikipedia and Google’s protest against the bills on their sites as “an abuse of trust and a misuse of power,” he seems to be taking a softer line, suggesting to politico.com that Internet companies need content to thrive and that media companies need the Web to distribute their movies, music and TV shows.

“We need to repair the mistrust that obviously inspired a lot of the opposition to this bill,” Sherman said. “It’s either a deliberate misinformation campaign, or it’s mistrust where two sides look at the same thing and come up with different impressions about what they mean. Somehow, we have to look to bridge those differences and get on the same page.”

Hollywood studios and music labels are also considering supplementing traditional Hill lobbying with online advocacy, a tactic successfully used by the web companies to voice their opposition to the bills. “There’s been a recognition that we need to find a way to be more effective in the online space,” said Michael O’Leary Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs at the MPAA.

Prior to a planned visit by President Obama to Los Angeles on February 15 for fund-raising events, MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd said he hoped the President would use the opportunity in both communities to reiterate the important point that he made in the State of the Union: “that online content theft is a problem, that it harms US workers and US business and that now is the time to come together to find meaningful solutions to protect American intellectual property from foreign criminals”.

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