Is the Entertainment Industry Fighting Piracy or Change?

January 31, 2012  |  

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) estimates that $16 billion in earnings is lost annually due to copyright theft of music, movies, software and video. In response, organizations like the MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have been on a crusade to regulate the consumption of content.

SOPA, an anti-piracy bill, was the latest attempt to crack down on illegal downloading. It promptly became a public relations nightmare when some of the internet’s most influential sites – including Wikipedia and Craigslist – participated in service blackouts in protest and turned the public against the bill.

SOPA was the equivalent of doing surgery with a butcher knife. In the name of protecting intellectual property owners, SOPA gave movie studios and record labels the power to strip sites of ad, payment and search services without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. The bill also encouraged providers to proactively shutter sites it considers infringers.

The oddest thing about SOPA is that the MPAA and RIAA already have the right to request copyrighted material be taken down under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). There is enough Beyoncé concert footage with “video removed” messages on YouTube to know that it’s working well. But, apparently, not well enough for MPAA and RIAA.

Days after The White House refused to sign SOPA and the bill met its demise (for now) in Congress, the file-sharing site Megaupload was shut down. Many thought the government was flexing its authority in the aftermath of the SOPA protest. But Megaupload’s founder, Kim Dotcom, claimed the recording industry was threatened by new products the site had in the works that would allow artists to sell their music directly to consumers, pocketing the majority of the earnings, and even allow artists to earn income from users who download their music for free.

This could be the conspiracy theory of a man whose extradition from New Zealand is being sought by the U.S. Department of Justice on online piracy charges. But, it raises a good question – is the entertainment industry fighting piracy or change?

The entertainment industry enjoyed lucrative profits pre-internet with consumers constantly repurchasing their film and music collection as new formats hit the market. Technology was great then. But, the latest format for content – digital files – just so happens to work in the consumer’s favor. When the industry first realized this, their instinct was to shut down websites like Napster and sue music downloaders.

Twelve years later, the entertainment industry is still trying to stifle access to content with no luck in changing their consumers’ behavior. It’s time for a new approach. They aren’t the first industry to have to overhaul their business model to accommodate the internet’s influence and they won’t be the last.

While the industry was busy writing checks to lobbyists for SOPA, Fast Company ran a major feature in their January issue on “Generation Flux” where the future of business was declared to be pure chaos.

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