The Medium and the Message

The Industry That Cried Pirate: How Hollywood’s Hyperbole Backfired

Backroom negotiations and a flimsy moral high ground? Hollywood's public relations blunders on SOPA.

hollywood e1326815358425 The Industry That Cried Pirate: How Hollywoods Hyperbole Backfired
The tech startup industry, as fierce a meritocracy as any in this country, is full of Very Effective People. People who started their own companies, freelancers, people who build things. And those people also tend to be clever and idealistic and collaborative. Another thing the tech startup industry, largely built around the most superior medium of information known to man, is really good at? Communication. You’d think Hollywood would be good at that too. But when it came to the Stop Online Piracy Act (R.I.P.), it wasn’t even a fair fight.

The Hollywood Reporter has a great analysis of the major ways Hollywood shot itself in the foot over the SOPA issue. Basically, Hollywood acted like the evil villain in SOPA: Origins. The bill was negotiated behind closed doors and then sprung upon the public. The entertainment industry has always had a strong lobbying force, slick negotiators well-versed in the ways of the Beltway. The internet hates that shit. “By the time Congress took up debate on the issues, the legislation had the stink of being crafted in backrooms,” Hollywood Reporter writes.

Hollywood also argued that pirates were killing jobs, which is hard to prove, counter-intuitive, and overlooks the fact that it accuses a huge swath of Americans who just want to watch a certain movie on their computers and have no way to buy that movie on demand for a reasonable price. People don’t like being accused of things. The hyperbole also caused SOPA supporters to trip themselves up all the time. One Congressman argued in a hearing that piracy meant we wouldn’t have the next Adele; but piracy has existed since, oh, this reporter first got an internet connection and Napster in like, 1999. And Adele exists. That’s simple logic. Techies are very logical. They will notice if your argument is idiotic.

(On the other side, the tech industry’s rhetoric has been equally hyperbolic. “Break the internet.” And Hollywood still lost the point. Meanwhile, a senator’s aide accidentally drops the “censorship” word and the story spreads like wildfire. It’s the Internet Noise Machine, the greatest advocacy mouthpiece ever created.)

But, the Hollywood Reporter argues, the entertainment industry has allowed itself to be cast as an enemy of free speech and innovation. But the film industry is a creative force, not just a syndicate of dark-hearted capitalists, and piracy does hurt it. But the argument is more nuanced than “kills jobs” or “obliterates Adele.”

It’s also true that piracy — or pricing pressures on content – also influences the quality of speech in the marketplace, what kinds of content gain investment from publishers and studios, and the decisions that emerging artists or authors make when forging their nascent careers. Right now, few people are talking about that.

Watch your back, PIPA.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Piracy also makes a lot of money and that you won’t hear the media monopolies talk about. I find Avatar to be a great study, widely pirated, wildly profitable.