×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Big Tech’s Wish List for NAFTA Would Worsen Showbiz’s Piracy Problems (Guest Column)

Remember NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, favorite target of Donald Trump on the campaign trail? The “worst deal” for Americans ever? The “we’re going to rip it up and “Make America Great Again™” NAFTA? Well, it’s being renegotiated so you better pay attention.

Why do I care about NAFTA? I’ve been working as a film producer and production executive for more than thirty years. What made that possible was copyright protection, and copyright is under fire and NAFTA is the battleground.

But let’s start at the beginning, when NAFTA was first negotiated in 1993.

It used to be that when a movie got released, the only competition was what else was playing when it came out. But now that’s not the case – now you compete against everything in the theater and everything available at home.

However, the amount of quality content isn’t the real problem. Whether you’re Netflix-streaming “The Godfather” or “Godless,” at least you’re paying for the experience.

The real problem is that everything is also available online for free. This new threat, enabled by monopoly internet platforms like Google and Facebook, has been hollowing out our business model.

For example, a Samuel L. Jackson movie I made, “Unthinkable,” had its Blu-ray rip posted to the web TEN DAYS before release. TorrentFreak, the piracy trade publication, said it went to #1 on the piracy charts. I watched as hundreds of thousands of illegal torrents and streams killed our revenue.

Today, these torrents and streams are in the hundreds of millions. 

I know audiences want what they want, when they want it. But there’s no way for a legitimate business like mine to compete with an illegitimate business when it’s giving away my product for free.

And finding them is easy – they’re indexed nicely by Google’s search engine. Just type in “watch” before the name of any movie and see what Google auto-completes for you. Go ahead, try it. Whether it’s a big studio offering or a small independent made for next to nothing, Google is glad to serve up illegal streams, undermining the industry that employs the thousands of people who make these movies.

So let’s get back to NAFTA, and why I’m writing a piece about a trade agreement when my business is making movies.

A lot has changed since my most enduring movie, Kasi Lemmons’ “Eve’s Bayou,” was released in the late 1990s. Here’s what hasn’t — the language of our laws, particularly the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. The outdated language in these laws is being used to reframe the intellectual property protections and copyright provisions of NAFTA, our most important trade agreement.

Both the CDA and the DMCA were passed during the infancy of the internet. Google was barely born and Facebook didn’t come along until 2004. There was a valid fear that onerous regulation could stifle what seemed an invention of fabulous promise.

The CDA guaranteed “platform immunity” to ISPs for almost any illegal act their users conducted through them, even if the ISPs know about it or turn a blind eye, and the DMCA provided “safe harbor” from copyright infringement, creating a “take-down” process that puts the onus on the copyright holder – whether that’s me in my little office or a large studio with an army of attorneys — a process ineffective at best and, at worst, enabling a massive transfer of wealth from creatives to tech monopolists.

Now, more than twenty years later, these virtually unregulated monopoly internet platforms have grown from their fragile infancy into the largest and richest companies in the world, with attendant lobbyists wielding economic power in legislatures. And they want more protection.

The current NAFTA renegotiation is their most recent vehicle. Google and its allies want a stronger “safe harbor,” more immunity from illegal acts, and broad copyright exceptions in trade agreements. They want protection from “secondary liability,” which is critical for creatives in US law.

Secondary liability is sort of like saying if you allow your car to be used in a robbery, you’ve got a problem. If you profit by enabling piracy, that should be a problem for you too.

If this protection isn’t in NAFTA, countries who are signatories to this agreement could spawn platforms of their own – with a global reach – that would profit from piracy with impunity.

These platforms don’t need immunity from this liability. It’s the creative industries that need the protection, and the people who work in them need it most of all. We are an industry full of small businesses and independent contractors like myself – whether it’s union craftspeople earning middle-class wages or lonesome independent producers, or writers and directors passionately risking their livelihoods trying to bring fresh voices and insights that will enliven and enrich our culture.

We, the 5.5 million Americans who depend on copyright to make a living, need protection and we need to demand it.  We must demand the same level of accountability and responsibility for these monopoly platforms as the rest of American industry. Put simply, we must demand strong copyright protections in the new NAFTA. We will only win if we fight.

Unlike some of the other fights we may have in our future, this one won’t take much of your time. Join 76,000 other actual Americans (no bots allowed) and tell the negotiators to protect creative rights. You can sign the petition here.

Cotty Chubb is a producer and production executive. His most recent picture, “The Dinner,” starring Richard Gere, was released in 2017 by The Orchard.

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Weinstein Can Get a Fair Trial in Manhattan, Says D.A.

    The Manhattan District Attorney’s office argued on Friday that Harvey Weinstein can get a fair trial in Manhattan, and blamed the producer’s defense team for much of the pre-trial publicity in the case. Weinstein’s attorneys have asked an appellate court to transfer the case — which is set to begin on Sept. 9 — to [...]

  • Leonardo DiCaprio Madonna

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna Call for Action on Amazon Wildfires

    As wildfires rage at an alarming rate in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, celebrities are using their platforms to bring awareness to the deforestation’s impact and to call for action. In the past week, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Cara Delevingne and Ariana Grande have taken to Instagram to express their frustration with the lack of [...]

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group announced it has entered a partnership with the music streaming and discovery service Audiomack, marking the platform’s first licensing deal with a major label. According to the announcement, the two companies will work together on content concepts and explore ways to break emerging artists, connecting music fans with rising talent before they [...]

  • Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on

    Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on ‘Brilliant’ Album and Campaign

    Two days after Taylor Swift fired off the latest salvo in her battle with Scooter Braun, the manager congratulated the singer on the campaign around her “brilliant” new album, “Lover,” which arrived last night. The message came after Swift said she will be re-recording songs from her first six albums, which are now owned by [...]

  • David Koch Obit

    David Koch, Libertarian Activist and Billionaire Philanthropist, Dies at 79

    David Koch, brother of Charles Koch and one of the owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S., has died at 79. According to the New York Times, Charles Koch announced the news of his brother’s death in a statement. Though he did not attribute to David’s death to a particular cause, [...]

  • Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing

    Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing From Usher, Adam Lambert

    A Beverly Hills real estate agent has been arrested on charges of stealing from the homes of celebrities, including Usher, Adam Lambert and “Real Housewives” star Dorit Kemsley. Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, is accused of encouraging an accomplice, Benjamin Ackerman, to enter homes during open houses in order to steal from them. Ackerman allegedly sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content