Hollywood moves to stem Net film piracy

Hollywood’s major studios are taking the battle to stop Internet movie piracy to a whole new level beginning this week with a high-priced series of public service announcements in some of the nation’s most influential newspapers and magazines. “Parental Guidance Suggested: Illegal downloading inappropriate for all ages,” the ads blare in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other papers and magazines, including 100 college newspapers. The question is, will the ad campaign make a difference and save filmmakers millions in lost revenue from illegal downloads by mostly young, Internet-savvy users? “We wouldn’t be spending several million dollars on this campaign if we didn’t think it would make a difference,” said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Hollywood lobby group behind the ads. “How successful it will be, I can’t tell you, but it’s a pretty damn good ad. We’re optimistic. One million jobs in the movie industry are in peril if we don’t check this piracy.”

One of the main thrusts of the campaign is to reach parents, students and local groups and explain why movie piracy is illegal, how it affects jobs and the economy and the consequences of engaging in illegal trafficking. “We hope this ramped-up information/educational campaign will cause those who are taking films without permission to stop their illegal activity,” Valenti said. He said the other thrust of the campaign is to educate parents to the dangers of letting their children use file-sharing programs that could open the door on home computers to viruses and spyware programs, where third parties might be able to access all kinds of personal records, including bank account information and even medical records. “If we don’t react promptly to an ascending curve of illegal uploading and downloading soon to be reinforced with dazzling speeds rising from file-trafficking networks, we will live with an intense regret,” Valenti said. “We have to do more to convince that minority of people who are engaged in this unlawful and infringing activity of the wrongness of their conduct. We have to stem the tide of film theft online before it is too late, before it puts to peril the creative energy of the industry and the jobs of the nearly one million Americans who work within the movie industry.”

The campaign also includes the development of self-enforced codes of conduct for student computer use on campuses, where students complain of clogged networks because of the use of peer-to-peer networks. Working with Junior Achievement, more than 1 million students in grades 5-9 are learning about copyrights and the protection of creative property, the MPAA statement said. The motion picture industry also is working with a broad range of information technology and consumer electronics companies to develop new technological solutions to illegal movie downloading and to expand legitimate alternatives to piracy that would permit consumers to rent and buy movies via the Internet with such services as Movielink and CinemaNow.

The MPAA is in the process of significantly increasing its monitoring of illegal film-swapping levels online and is following closely and assessing the effectiveness of initiatives taken by the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) against music piracy. “We will keep all of our options open, including legal action,” Valenti said. The campaign builds on the MPAA’s extensive efforts to raise public awareness about illegal file swapping, using technology as well as legal and legislative channels to build public awareness and create legal alternatives to protect copyrighted works. To connect with consumers, the MPAA has been running two sets of trailers on every movie screen in the country as part of the “Movies, They’re Worth It” campaign. It also has broadcast PSAs on broadcast and cable TV networks.

The MPAA estimates losses because of analogue and hard-goods piracy at $3.5 billion (1.9 billion pounds) annually, not including illegal downloading. According to outside research, 400,000-600,000 films are being illegally downloaded each day. If piracy is left unchecked, illegal file trafficking could grow in the near term and include “spellbindingly fast download speeds. According to studies, 39% of adult Internet users — 24% of all adult Americans — have high-speed access at home, an increase of 60% since March 2003. This trend is expected to continue. Also, for the first time, more than half (52%) of the college-educated under-35 audience has access to a high-speed broadband connection at home, making it easier to trade copyrighted movie and music files. “Stealing movies over the Internet can lead to serious consequences,” the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property said in a statement. “Online piracy involves the theft of billions of dollars, impacts the livelihood of tens of thousands of Americans and is a criminal offence. (We) applaud the MPAA’s campaign and others like it that educate parents and children about the consequences of illegally downloading copyrighted movies and remind them that their behaviour is more than illegal — it’s wrong.”