Chris Dodd urges tech team-up

MPAA chairman spoke at the SMPTE confab

MPAA chairman Chris Dodd spoke to Hollywood’s foremost technical groups Wednesday and sought to portray showbiz as being on the cusp of innovation despite perceptions that it is clinging to outdated business models and often pitted against the interests of Silicon Valley.

Seven months into his job as the leader of the studios’ chief trade association, Dodd told the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers Conference, “There are those who would pit these two communities against each other in a manufactured conflict more reminiscent to the Washington D.C. Beltway chatter I learned to ignore on my last job.

“To listen to some in the tech community, we in the film and TV industry are dinosaurs, they like to say, clinging desperately to a broken business model and stubbornly refusing to evolve. But this criticism, in my view, ignores a century of innovation in film and television.”

He said showbiz not only must adapt — embracing technology “as our friend” — but must “innovate in our own right.”

“The truth is, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have mutually benefitted from their partnership for a long time — and one of my top priorities at the MPAA will be to grow and strengthen that partnership,” he said. “We cannot survive without each other.”

He plans to visit Silicon Valley tech firms next month.

Yet the MPAA, other industry trade associations and the guilds and unions are running up against some in the tech sector, including Google and Yahoo, in pushing for passage of legislation that would target websites, particularly those overseas, centered on infringing activities.

The legislation would give the government more authority to block domain names as well as provide measures to choke off support of the sites from ad firms, payment processors and search engines. A House version of the bill was introduced Wednesday; the Senate Judiciary Committee passed its own version unanimously last spring.

Google’s Eric Schmidt has been a vocal opponent of the bill, citing free-speech concerns, and on Wednesday, the NetCoalition, of which the search giant is a member, said the House bill “will regulate the Internet” and lead to a “morass of legal and regulatory uncertainty.”

Speaking to Variety before his speech, Dodd said of Google: “I regret that they are taking that position. I think they are wrong about it. It is exaggerated hyperbole in my view. How do you justify providing a search engine for someone to go and steal something?”

He said he would be willing to meet with Google leaders but said they are an “outlier” in their opposition, noting that both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO support the legislation. He said ad firms, search engines and payment processors that provide support to infringing sites act as “accessories” to content theft.

“I voted for Net Neutrality,” said Dodd, who ended a 30-year career in the Senate in January. “I never voted for the idea that because it was neutral, you could go in and steal from me. Where does that right come from?”

He added, “When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn’t do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites.”

Dodd called on SMPTE to join its campaign to press for the new antipiracy legislation, part of an overall effort to try to engage the Hollywood rank-and-file in what has been up largely a policy matter inside the Beltway. He also called on industry donors to make the case for strong copyright protection when they attend fund-raisers for the flood of candidates who trek to Hollywood to seek campaign cash.

“While the industry gets involved in causes that are about domestic issues, the environment, jobs, foreign policy, there has been a reluctance on the part of the industry to talk about itself, to talk about its needs,” he told Variety.

He added that when he was in the Senate, “I never felt offended when I spoke to some industry and they wanted to tell me what their point of view was. I respected that. They had every right to do so. I think we need to get the (entertainment) industry to step up and do more of that.”

When studios chiefs announced Dodd’s appointment earlier this year, some expressed frustration that Hollywood had lost its image as a bastion for innovation and hoped that Dodd would help refine the message.

In his speech, Dodd several times mentioned Steve Jobs as an innovator who understood the tech-showbiz symbiosis and noted that Jobs, shortly before he died, told Fox co-chairman Jim Gianopulos: “Don’t let what happened in the music business happen to yours — keep coming up with better ways to provide people with your content.”

Dodd said the industry was “threatened” by piracy but cited not just legislative efforts but UltraViolet, the system hatched by studios, tech and electronics firms that will allow consumers to buy a movie and watch it in multiple formats and on various devices.

Dodd also spoke of better engaging young consumers to view content theft as harmful, saying that the industry’s creativity could better be used to spread messaging and be as effective as campaigns against smoking and drunk driving. He even talked of “idea placement,” in which shows like “Glee” could embed messages of the perils of piracy within their storylines.

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