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.”

More Film

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content