Execs support White House piracy plan

Hollywood waits to see how plan will be implemented

Entertainment executives took to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to express support for a White House plan to fight piracy, characterizing it as the kind of coordinated campaign so far lacking in efforts to fight rampant copyright infringement.

The pressing question now is how the 61-page plan, unveiled Tuesday, will be implemented. The White House “copyright czar” Victoria Espinel, business and labor leaders testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the plan, which is heavy on strengthening enforcement efforts, is a necessary initial step. It’s unclear what specific legislative action will be needed to move forward.

“We acknowledge that no silver bullet exists, either in the public or private sector, that can fully eradicate the problem of piracy,” Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Barry Meyer told the committee. He said it must be pursued on a variety of levels and with numerous approaches that feature vigorous enforcement and cross-industry cooperation to prevent infringement.

The judiciary committee was holding an oversight hearing on the newly established office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Espinel’s official title.

Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reminded the gathering that the impact of illegal knockoffs is widespread in the economy, including phony pharmaceuticals and even counterfeit microchips acquired by the Defense Department. But the lion’s share of the hearing was devoted to the impact that a coordinated enforcement campaign could have on Hollywood and the music industry.

Meyer detailed how piracy affects the industry’s economic model including residuals, a point echoed by labor exec Paul Almeida, president of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO. “Estimates of the jobs lost to piracy in this sector alone is in the hundreds of thousands,” said Almeida. But online theft also robs workers of residuals and other benefits, he said.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who said he remains a member of the WGA, SAG and AFTRA, claimed he can personally testify to the importance of residual checks. “I still get a $12 check whenever they play ‘Trading Places,’ ” said the former writer/actor for “Saturday Night Live.” The comment prompted a disclosure from Leahy that he also receives an occasional check for three appearances in Warner Bros.’ “Batman” movies.

Music publisher Caroline Bienstock said family-owned operations such as hers are especially hard hit by today’s rampant piracy because of their limited number of revenue streams. “We have a generation that has grown up thinking that music should be free, (and) an attitude that the Internet is superior to intellectual property,” she told the panel. She said increased enforcement should be accompanied by educational efforts.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I) said he is troubled that legitimate businesses are indirectly supporting Internet piracy, including Internet service providers, search engines and even credit cards that process the payment of pirated films. He asked the panel of witnesses why they haven’t taken action against these firms. “I would have thought your lawyers would have been there in 30 seconds,” he said.

Meyer said the industry is examining such “enabling practices,” but said doing so faces technological problems. He also pointed out that rapidly evolving digital technology is a double-edged sword. While it gives distribs new platforms to market their products, staying ahead of the pirates remains a constant battle.

Espinel offered details of the plan, stressing the importance of broad interagency cooperation that she said would address prevention and enforcement. She said the plan would boost cooperation with state and local law enforcement, increase training for personnel and establish groups to address specific issues.

Franken told Espinel that he remains concerned about “network neutrality” as it relates to Internet piracy. “I want to know how you put in place measures to protect against piracy that don’t impede the free flow of info on the Internet,” he said. Espinel replied that net neutrality “does not apply to unlawful content including the distribution of counterfeit products.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Cara Delevingne Talks Immigration, Taylor Swift's Battle With Scooter Braun

    Cara Delevingne, whose faerie character in “Carnival Row,” finds herself washed ashore as a refugee in a foreign land, said she was immediately drawn by the show’s fantastical take on issues of immigration and assimilation. “It’s a cause that I have been involved in for a long time,” Delevingne told Variety at the premiere of [...]

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Romulus TV Show Italy

    Behind the Italian Scenes on Upcoming TV Blockbuster 'Romulus'

    On a hilly patch of greenery outside Rome, a group of extras is milling about in a meticulously reconstructed eighth century B.C. village wearing leather sandals, coarse red tunics and baseball caps. It’s scorching. The set is on a vast backlot on the grounds of the Cinecittà World theme park where during a period of [...]

  • James Wan's Horror Pic Adds George

    James Wan Finds Male Lead for His Next Horror Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    British actor George Young has landed the male lead role opposite Annabelle Wallis in James Wan’s top secret horror pic, sources tell Variety. Wan is tackling the movie, tentatively titled “Silvercup,” this fall before beginning preparations for DC’s “Aquaman” sequel with Jason Momoa at the top of 2020. Plot details are currently being kept under [...]

  • Catch-22 Cinecitta BTS

    Rome's Cinecitta Makes Major Upgrades to Soundstages, Backlot

    Italy has always been attractive as a location, and now that increased global TV and film production is filling up soundstages around Europe, Rome’s Cinecittà is gunning to regain its global status as a top studio. The fabled facility, located on 99 acres of public land, had lost some of the luster of its 1950s [...]

  • Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now BTS

    Why Everything About 'Apocalypse Now's' Production Was Unorthodox

    Lionsgate and American Zoetrope are releasing “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” the third version of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic, to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. While multiple versions of any mainstream movie are unusual, everything about this movie was unorthodox. On Oct. 14, 1969, Variety reported that Warner Bros. bought the script by John Milius, [...]

  • Russell Crowe in 'Unhinged': First Look

    Russell Crowe Stars as an Angry Driver in First Look at 'Unhinged'

    Cut off Russell Crowe in traffic at your own peril! That’s the takeaway from the first look at “Unhinged,” an upcoming thriller that stars the Oscar-winning “Gladiator” actor as a man who takes road rage to frightening new levels. Crowe appears in the Solstice Studios release alongside Caren Pistorius, who portrays Rachel, a mother who [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content