Why It’s Important to Reject SOPA, the MPAA and Piracy

By  · Published on January 18th, 2012

In October of 2011, Representative Lamar S. Smith (of the great state of Texas) introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act to Congress. The bill’s aim was to bolster copyright holders in fights against those that infringe upon them, and that’s an important task. Intellectual property theft can be incredibly injurious to the victim. In fact, FSR had to cut through red tape in the fall of last year to stop a Chinese-based website from stealing its content and republishing it wholesale. Plagiarism is despicable, and stealing the hard creative work of others is too.

However, SOPA is tantamount to drinking drain cleaner because your nose itches.

The bill is unduly generic – granting massive powers to the government and entities who would wield it like a plaything to shut down websites for spurious reasons and to keep them down throughout what would inevitably be a drawn-out legal process. In short, for an accusation with no meat on it, some of your favorite sites could be shut down on a whim, creating both temporary and possibly permanent damage.

As you can see from our masthead today, we’re in full support of the protest against SOPA (and PIPA, it’s cousin in the Senate). While we don’t know how powerful the SOPA blackout might be, we genuinely wish we could go dark as well, but it’s just not feasible for a site like ours that operates on a smile and a shoestring. Losing a day of revenue is just too much of a burden for a movie magazine that pays writers in cat food and old DVD cleaning kits, but in solidarity, Kevin Carr is going to spend the entire day blacked out on his couch after watching Bucky Larson and Human Centipede 2 simultaneously.

The truth is, you probably already know all about SOPA (and the fact that it’s not slang used for ordering delicious sopaipillas (you raise a flag for that)), but it’s also important to know that the MPAA is firmly in support of the bill and its abusive nature. It’s also imperative to remember that rejecting SOPA is not automatically support for movie piracy.

First off, the MPAA sent out this barn burner of a press release:

WASHINGTON – The following is a statement by Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA) on the so-called “Blackout Day” protesting anti-piracy legislation:

“Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

Apologies for turning you into our corporate prawns and punishing you. Don’t pretend like you don’t like it.

Here’s the deal with the MPAA. It’s a great idea that has been implemented like an enema from Nurse Ratched. Instead of being a force for good in a world where parents are interested in knowing what kind of explicit content can be found in art before they expose children to it, it’s embraced a disgusting brand of Nanny-ism that would rather use soft power and the market place to censor work than allow adults to make up their own minds. After years of malfeasance, this full scale attack on the First Amendment, and a profound misunderstanding of their role in the movie industry, it’s time to call for the MPAA to be restructured so that it can do its job and stop hurting artists’ and entrepreneurs’ ability to make movies and money. The first act? To create some accountability in a group that’s completely shielded by auditing of any kind.

As to the statement’s assertions, it’s unclear how the blackout is “dangerous” or how it will hurt the lawmakers behind this bill (unless they don’t like hearing from the people they work for), but to spit so much venom at a group assembling to exercise its fundamental freedoms showcases exactly how the MPAA feels about the general public.

Here’s the catch. While it’s easy to hate SOPA and the people pushing it through like Rosemary’s Baby, it’s also easy to lose sight of the simple fact that online piracy hurts filmmakers.

Sure, it feels about as illegal as driving 10 miles over the speed limit, but there are also real-world consequences. Recently, House of the Devil and Innkeepers director Ti West asked the internet not to steal his movie, but it wasn’t for the obvious reason. It wasn’t about the money:

“Every time you purchase something you are making a statement. You are creating physical evidence that something has value. If something has a high value, then it becomes in high demand. So if you make a concerted effort to support lesser-known, interesting and esoteric things (Art?) then you are helping make those lesser-known things more popular. I’m sure we can all agree that there are incredible movies made every year that never get the attention they deserve – That’s not the movies’ fault. That is our collective fault for not being proactive enough to GO OUT OF OUR WAY to support them.

So yes, I want you to go out of your way and pay for my movie. Not because I’m greedy, but because if the movie makes money (whomever for) that’s tangible evidence of a paying audience out there for movies like mine.”

In fact, West effectively showed that he (and other independent filmmakers in his position) wouldn’t be hurt financially by piracy, but value might be a much more vital imperative. Why? If you love the art, love the artist (or be prepared to go without art).

Pirating these movies hurts filmmakers, and it hurts you in the long run because the types of movies you enjoy might not get made. In a response to West, producer Keith Calder (The Wackness, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, You’re Next) echoed the sentiments with hopes that the sound in the echo chamber would get louder and burst through the walls. Both pieces are worth perusing, but here’s the money quote from Calder:

“Do you want to live in a world where RESERVOIR DOGS or PULP FICTION wouldn’t be able to get made, because the distributors all assume its audience would just pirate it? Because that’s where we’re headed right now.”

A chilling, illuminating question.

Calder is correct to point out that the industry believes that younger audiences won’t pay for anything except blockbusters, and that the core problem is that evidence of piracy only advances that theory. Stealing movies from filmmakers is like dining and dashing at your favorite restaurant after leaving a note saying how much you love their food. Pretty soon, the restaurant goes bankrupt, and you have nowhere to eat pancakes at.

We as movie fans owe it to the creators of the art we enjoy and to ourselves to police ourselves and fiercely reject any attempt from an outsider to tell us that we can’t responsibly appreciate movies or any other media.

SOPA isn’t just about stopping Canadian drugs from crossing the border, and it’s not just about Chinese and Russian websites scraping content. No, rejecting the perversion of SOPA or the asinine contempt of MPAA shouldn’t also be a score for online piracy, but these bills are the real enemies here. If you haven’t already, contact your congressperson to let them know how you feel and then go watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. For one, the only way a blackout like this works is if it makes enough noise, and for two, that movie is awesome. Jimmy Stewart crushes it.

Hopefully that’s what we’ll all do to SOPA. Down with piracy, down with the MPAA and down with witch-hunting bills that take power from the people.

In other words: Damn the Man. Save the Empire.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.