Harvard Political Review interview with Jack Valenti

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by wessman, Feb 8, 2003.

  1. wessman

    wessman Zeropaid News Junkie

    Jack Valenti's Views On The Digital Age
    from the you-mean-they're-against-otan dept.
    posted by timothy on Wednesday February 05, @14:03 (movies)

    ditogi writes "The [1]Harvard Political Review did a quick [2]interview with the lord of darkness himself, Jack Valenti. He gives his thoughts on government mandated copy prevention, fair use, and lobbying. In response to his famous 'VCR is [to the movie industry]...as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.' quote, he responds, 'I wasn't opposed to the VCR.' And what does he think of his current job? 'I think lobbying is really an honest profession.'" My favorite quote: "In the digital world, we don't need back-ups, because a digital copy never wears out. It is timeless." Update: 02/05 20:05 GMT by [3]T: [4]Derek Slater writes "I'm the author of the Valenti article you guys linked to. I've made [5]some brief comments about it on my site, and figured I'd send them along."

    1. http://www.hpronline.org/main.cfm
    2. http://www.hpronline.org/news/347207.html?mkey=628413
    3. http://www.monkey.org/~timothy/
    4. http://cmusings.blogspot.com
    5. http://cmusings.blogspot.com/2003_02_02_cmusings_archive.html#88495460

    Valenti's Views
    By Derek Slater
    The Harvard Political Review - Interviews
    Issue: 01/25/03

    Jack Valenti has led a prolific political life. A decorated World War II pilot, Valenti served as a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson until 1966. Since then, he has served as the President of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), turning the entertainment studio consortium into a lobbying juggernaut. Valenti helped pioneer the movie industry's voluntary rating system and has tirelessly fought government censorship. He has also headed the Motion Picture Export Association, protecting American film studios' interests in other countries. In recent years, Valenti has become an outspoken leader in the fight against piracy on the Internet. Known for his sharp rhetorical abilities, Valenti always speaks about piracy in calamitous terms, prophesizing the eventual death of the movie industry. To defend its copyrights, MPAA successfully sued publishers of a program that undermined the copy prevention technology on DVDs and is currently suing several file-sharing services. In addition, Valenti has taken his case to Congress, pushing for mandated copy prevention technologies in all digital devices that play movies, music, and other media. But many people have criticized Valenti's hard-line stance, calling it anti-technology and anti-consumer. These critics assert that Valenti's copy prevention mandates will harm innovation, forcing all technologists to ask the MPAA's permission before creating the next generation of amazing gadgets. Copyright holders have always fought new technologies, from Marconi's radio to cable television to VCRs, and in no case have their apocalyptic visions come true. Furthermore, copy prevention technologies will go beyond ending piracy by limiting how consumers can make personal use of their legally purchased movies. After delivering a speech on "Persuasion and Leadership" at Harvard's Institute of Politics, Valenti sat down with the HPR to discuss his side of the digital debate and his life in politics.

    HPR: You once remarked that "VCR is [to the movie industry]...as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." Even though the movie industry profits from video rentals, the MPAA still fears new technologies like digital VCRs and the Internet. What are the significant differences between the threat posed by the VCR and by today's technologies?

    Jack Valenti: I wasn't opposed to the VCR. The MPAA tried to establish by law that the VCR was infringing on copyright. Then we would go to the Congress and get a copyright royalty fee put on all blank videocassettes and that would go back to the creators [to compensate for videocassette piracy]. I predicted great piracy. We now lose $3.5 billion a year in videocassette analog piracy. It was a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that determined VCRs were not infringing, which I regret. As a result, we never got the copyright royalty fee, but everything I predicted came true. Now the difference between analog piracy and digital piracy is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. For example, it's very cumbersome to deal in piracy of videocassettes; it costs a lot of money. But in digital piracy, with the click of a mouse a twelve year-old can send a film hurdling around the world. The music industry now is suffering nine, ten, fifteen percent losses in revenue. When you compound that over the next three or four years, the music industry is dead. I don't see a future for it. After awhile, who's going to produce it? It now costs about $350,000 to produce a CD; it costs $80 million to make and market a movie. Big difference. The MPAA could live with the fifteen million homes that currently have broadband internet access. But when sixty million homes have broadband, plus the people on fast connections in universities, making it so easy to bring down a movie in minutes... We're breeding a new group of young students who wouldn't dream of going into a Blockbuster and putting a DVD under their coat. But they have no compunction about bringing down a movie on the Internet. That isn't wrong to them. Why? I don't know.

    HPR: The MPAA has backed several bills mandating copy prevention technologies. Critics have lambasted these bills for curbing consumer's "fair use" rights, including the ability to make back-up copies. How can we balance the interests of consumers and the movie industry?

    JV: What is fair use? Fair use is not a law. There's nothing in law. Right now, any professor can show a complete movie in his classroom without paying a dime--that's fair use. What is not fair use is making a copy of an encrypted DVD, because once you're able to break the encryption, you've undermined the encryption itself.

    HPR: Even if breaking the encryption is for a legitimate purpose, to make a back-up copy?

    JV: But you've already got a DVD. It lasts forever. It never wears out. In the digital world, we don't need back-ups, because a digital copy never wears out. It is timeless. The minute that you allow people to break an encryption, you lose all security. If anyone can do it under the rubric of fair use, how can we protect the artists? Today, it's illegal to copy a videocassette. No one has a fair use to copy a videocassette. If you lose it, you get another one, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's what people have been doing for generations.

    HPR: Why do we need government mandates for copy prevention technologies?

    JV: You have to have copy prevention mandated by the government sooner or later because otherwise everybody's not playing by the same ground rules. For example, the standards of my cell phone have to be mandated by the FCC because everybody has to operate off the same standards. Also, all railroad tracks in this country are the same standardized width. If you don't have tightly focused, narrowly drawn mandates, either regulatory or congressional, then, if I'm a maverick computer maker in Taiwan, I can say, "Hell, I'm not going to play by the rules. I'm going to do it so everybody can copy." Then Toshiba and Sony and IBM can say, "Well if he does that, then I want to do it." We always operate on the fact that everybody needs to know that there's a 55 mph speed limit. That's called a standard.

    HPR: You served as special assistant to President Johnson at the formative stages of the Vietnam War. Given your experience, what do you consider most crucial to keeping the war on terrorism, in light of conflict in Iraq, from becoming a quagmire?

    JV: Nobody realizes that when Johnson became president on Nov. 22, 1963, we had 16,000 fighting men in Vietnam. Nobody remembers that. The problem in Vietnam was that we couldn't get these people to negotiate. Johnson always believed that there was no such thing as victory--only negotiation. He never could get the Vietcong to the negotiating table. A lot of people urged him to go all out, as Richard Nixon did later, to bomb them into the Stone Age; he refused to do that, ultimately to his detriment. I think you need to remember what de Tocqueville once wrote, that "The people grow tired of a confusion whose end is not in sight." If you're going to go to war, you must have the people with you. If you lose the confidence of the American people, you face a terrifying problem. So long as George Bush has the majority of the American people on his side in the war on terrorism and the war against Iraq, he'll be just fine. But if he ever begins to lose that support, he will not do fine. That's what you learn from Johnson.

    HPR: In an interview with CNN.com, you discussed how costly the lack of censorship was to President Johnson during the Vietnam War. Having fought against the government's attempts to censor the movie industry, how do you think the government should approach censorship during wartime?

    JV: At all costs, the government should stay out of censorship, except in war. When soldiers lives may be at stake, I think you can. Vietnam is the only war we've ever fought in the history of our country, without censorship. But in any other arena, I'm totally opposed to censorship in any form. I'm a great believer and defender of the First Amendment.

    HPR: How do you view the influence of lobbyists in government and campaign finance reform? Do organizations like the MPAA have an undue influence because they have money?

    JV: I think lobbying is really an honest profession. Lobbying means trying to persuade Congress to accept your point of view. Sometimes you can give them a lot of facts they didn't have before. Money, however, is negative--it's corrupting the body politic. Even though money might be the most self-conflicting force in politics today, there are too many loopholes in this McCain-Feingold bill. All these lobbyists in town who are callous to what the bill stands for are going to exploit it. They'll turn to state parties and special interest groups and the money will keep pouring in. It's a tragedy.

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