Piracy, Jobs, and Expression
The success of the American entertainment industry is at risk from infringement.


Ron Maxwell

Regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Mr. Reihan Salam writes:

One gets the impression that a lucrative, politically influential industry is trying to get taxpayers to rescue it from its own incompetence and failure to offer compelling content in accessible formats. The case for bailing out Hollywood seems no more compelling to me than the case for bailing out the automotive or financial services industries.

Mr. Salam doesn’t seem to take any notice of real people in real jobs doing real work, only to see the fruits of their labor taken without compensation. Who in Hollywood is asking for a bailout? SOPA seems to be dead — but something needs to be done to address the problem of online piracy.

As someone who has spent 40 years in the motion-picture business, I can attest to the fierce competition, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit of the American filmmaking community. Mr. Salam sees only the major motion-picture studios. I see fellow citizens, craftspeople, artists, technicians, accountants, marketing experts, distribution executives, public-relations people, entertainment lawyers, development executives, actors, writers, directors, agents, managers, and many more people I know as colleagues and friends.

There are two issues at stake — jobs and expression. Internet piracy threatens our livelihood and silences our voices.

First, jobs:

The entertainment business comprises tens of thousands of individual start-ups and the equivalent of mom-and-pop businesses: students writing screenplays, young filmmakers producing movies on their credit cards, entrepreneurs raising capital from friends, private equity backing filmmakers or slates of films, singer-songwriters working as waiters or cab drivers to pay for their recordings — the list goes on.

We rarely hear of the failures or the money lost. Occasionally we hear about the success stories. The American entertainment business is American capitalism in action — vital, dynamic, enterprising, creative, adventurous and altogether wildly successful. It’s still American movies and American music that make the world sing, laugh, dance, and cry.

If revenues aren’t returned to the producing companies (large, small, or in between), these companies cannot invest in new projects. The entertainment industry will contract; one of America’s leading exports will shrink; skilled jobs will be lost; the American dominance in global entertainment will be needlessly squandered.

Allowing Internet pirates an open field is tantamount to an attack on working professionals in the entertainment industry. It is a massive job-killer.

Glossy magazines and glitzy cable-TV shows show us images of pampered, spoiled, semi-literate movie stars barely out of their teens mouthing the most inane statements. In the real world, you can count such people on little more than the fingers on both hands. The overwhelming majority of those employed in the entertainment industry are entirely grounded, highly skilled, middle-class workers, already in a tough, competitive business with extended spells of unemployment. These people absolutely depend on their paychecks, residuals, and in some cases profit participation. If revenues cannot be collected because of piracy, these average citizens simply cannot survive. It is unfair, unjust, and counterproductive in both the short and long run.


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