Milos Forman flays Web pirates

Filmmakers speaks out at World Copyright Summit

WASHINGTON — Illegal downloading has a lot in common with communism, helmer Milos Forman told a packed auditorium at the World Copyright Summit on Wednesday.

In his keynote speech on the second and final day of the confab on protecting creators’ rights, Forman, a native Czech who survived the Nazi occupation and Stalinist regimes that ensued, said that illegal downloaders often like to say that the Internet and what they do on it are inseparable from democracy.

“But what they are really doing is promoting a communist ideology,” Forman insisted.

Mass digital distribution of content that does not compensate copyright owners — and how to stop it — was a major theme during the two-day summit, which drew interested parties from several countries. Forman, who appeared on behalf of the Directors Guild of America, spent most of his speech attempting to debunk bootleggers’ justifications for their actions.

“Pirates see themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor,” he said. “But they are in fact robbing from thousands of regular people, many of them poor, who depend on the creative industries for a livelihood.”Pirates also think everything on the Internet should be free,” Forman continued. “But that is like going into a department store or supermarket, and just because you got a shopping basket for free, everything in the basket should be free, too.”

Forman also sounded a cautionary note advising his audience against sounding obsolete when arguing their views in the ongoing debate over access to digital content.

“We cannot allow the debate to make the creative community look like it is stuck in time,” he said. “We filmmakers in particular must embrace the opportunities of the Internet. But this is also a time of great peril, when an entire movie can be downloaded anywhere in the world with just a click.”

During a panel discussion on the differences in copyright law around the world, an official of the Motion Picture Assn. of America made candid observations about where the content industries have fallen short in the age of new media.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting our works out to people who want them,” said Fritz Attaway, MPAA special policy adviser. “We’ve done a lousy job of responding to changes in technology and consumer demands.”

Attaway also faulted the industries for failing to win more hearts and minds among consumers and legislators. “For a creative community, we’ve been remarkably uncreative in showing the world that what we do benefits society,” he said.

During another panel, National Music Publishers Assn. president David Israelite acknowledged that “yes, it was a mistake 30 years ago to fight the new technology (of the Sony Betamax) instead of trying to figure out how to profit from the new technology.”

But that was about the only conciliatory note Israelite offered to his debating opponent, Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Assn. Electronics manufacturers profit from the content industries’ losses when they make devices that facilitate piracy, Israelite said.

Shapiro accused Israelite of being “intellectually dishonest,” adding that the content industries’ “over-reaction” to piracy has robbed the industries of any credibility.