New department to crack down on theft

DEAUVILLE, France — Jack Valenti is confident that Hollywood features will be available for secure download via the Internet in as little as one year.

On his 26th visit to the Festival of American Cinema here, the MPA topper told Daily Variety, “We’ve got the best cyber-brains working on it. They’re devising encryption and watermarks that will block theft, and they assure me that everything can be in place to deliver full-length films to the consumer at a price that is reasonable and fair, within one year.”

While Valenti is thrilled about the ‘Net’s potential to boost profits, he’s adamant about the need to crack down on theft of intellectual property. “We are raising a generation who believe that if it’s on the Internet, it’s free,” he lamented. “They call it ‘file sharing,’ but there’s no other word for it but theft.”

Cheered by recent judicial rulings challenging Web-based clearing houses and software that make it easy to steal songs and movies, Valenti enthusiastically declared, “We are now arming ourselves to use legitimate technology to defeat illegitimate technology.”

Valenti has founded a new department within the MPA called Digital Strategies “to involve ourselves in digital rights management procedures so we can clothe our movies in a protective shield that would disallow them to be copied by anybody. Sniffers will instantly pluck out anything out there that’s unauthorized.”

A longtime political hand, Valenti feels the current emphasis on invoking God and religious faith in the U.S. Presidential race is a cyclical phenomenon, adding that the electorate seems to approve of this line of discourse for now. But Valenti added, “Throughout history, when a tyrant first appears, he comes as your protector.”

That said, Valenti admits that if he were in government as an elected representative, “I’d be decrying Hollywood for its sex and violence. I would be trashing American movies today, because it’s politically effective to bash movies. If you lambaste asparagus growers, nobody’s going to notice. But when you mention movies, people get interested very quickly.

“But,” Valenti added, “My job is to rebut those criticisms. I’m not worried about the American government interfering with the movie industry.”

Silly misconceptions

Asked what’s the biggest misconception about his work, Valenti warms to a question he says he’s never been asked before. “In America, it’s that I can tell people what to put in and what to take out of their movies. My predecessor Will Hays could do that, but I certainly can’t.”

And the most inaccurate received wisdom about the MPA beyond U.S. shores? “In Europe, it’s the conspiracy theory — that we actively conspire and scheme to keep foreign films out of the American marketplace.”

Welcoming Vivendi

There’s certainly no conspiracy to keep foreign investors out of the U.S. marketplace, as the recent Vivendi-Universal deal proves. Valenti is unqualified in his enthusiasm for the latest members of his organization. “I applaud it,” he said. “I am overjoyed. It’s a healthy development in the global marketplace to have a major player from France.”

Valenti says he has met Vivendi’s CEO Jean-Pierre Messier, whom he finds to be “very smart, very thoughtful and a visionary.” Valenti has counted Canal Plus topper Pierre Lescure as a friend for many years and said emphatically of the two Gallic media honchos, “These are not neophytes. These are seasoned professionals who are an asset to our industry.”

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