Valenti touts Movielink ‘experiment’

Technology, consumer honesty key to curbing piracy

DEAUVILLE — One day short of his 81st birthday, on his 28th consecutive visit to the American Film Festival here, MPAA chairman Jack Valenti is cautiously enthusiastic about the imminent launch of the Movielink system and unreservedly jazzed about Deauville, “which has grown to be quite a significant festival.”

Valenti described Movielink, the online video-on-demand service that a consortium of five studios plan to bow in November, as a “great experiment.”

“Piracy is the one issue that unites all creative community in the world,” he added, and the ability to download movies while protecting them from copying had been a knotty problem.

He said MPAA software, dubbed Ranger, was able to sniff out illegal movies on servers and the 1998 Digital Copyright Act had been successful in giving authorities the tools to prosecute. “We haven’t ever gone after an individual, only Internet Service Providers, and last year we sent out 54,000 cease and desist letters.”

However, he added: “Whatever legislation is put into place, it’s probably too late for stuff that’s already out there.”

Far from being unsettled by the resurgent tendency of Mexicans to buy tickets to Mexican films, Germans to German films and so on, Valenti cheers the recent inroads of native cinema in key markets around the globe. “I’m a great believer in a healthy, thriving local market. I believe that when people are watching more of their native films, the market expands.”

As download and upload times contract, the MPAA plans to mount a campaign aimed at some 10,000 colleges and universities to establish a code of conduct that will keep higher education’s superior digital networks from becoming virtual pirate ships for illegal file sharing.

Although the cure for piracy is “ultimately going to be technological,” according to Valenti, there’s also something to be said for appealing to consumer honesty.

He said the feedback over the past month in response to an anti-piracy spot starring Michelle Yeoh has been “tremendous.”

In the ad, which began airing in Taiwan in mid-August, Yeoh refused to date a guy who wants to show her a pirated DVD rather than take her to a cinema and pay for tickets. “She’s respected and admired throughout Asia, and if she says bootleg movies are theft, we’re hoping people will listen,” Valenti said.

As for the MPAA’s domestic movie rating system — which turns 34 on Nov. 1 — Valenti insists it is impartial and fair because it’s set up to be impervious to tampering of any kind.

“Independent filmmakers sometimes gripe that the studios get treated differently than they do when it comes to ratings, but what they don’t realize is that a Sumner Redstone or a Sherry Lansing has about as much influence on the process as the lowest clerk at a talent agency, which is to say, none.”

The majors gripe as much as the independents, says Valenti, but he and National Assn. of Theater Owners president John Fithian are “the only gatekeepers.”

Short of buying off Valenti and Fithian, there is no way of reaching the ratings panel, whose membership is kept “completely secret, in the manner of a grand jury. We’ll tell you a 40-year-old mother of three is on the panel, but we won’t give you her name or address.”

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