MPAA Chairman Charles Rivkin: Internet Platforms ‘Must Bear Responsibility’

MPAA Chief Charles Rivkin
Joy Asico/Asico Photo

WASHINGTON — MPAA chairman Charles Rivkin said “the message is getting louder by the day” that internet platforms “must bear responsibility” and “must do more to address the harms that, wittingly or not, they facilitate.”

Rivkin was speaking at the Aspen Forum of the Technology Policy Institute, a think tank with supporters in tech and entertainment.

He pointed to one possibility: Congress could “recalibrate” the legal immunities the platforms currently enjoy so that they would have to be more proactive in policing content on their sites. That issue has long been a fault line between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and the tech industry has been pushing back against the idea of changing the law.

The MPAA has long pressed the platforms to take a greater effort toward curbing piracy, and has seized on the shifting sentiments in D.C. that have resulted in congressional hearings and the prospect of new legislation. Rivkin’s speech, titled “a declaration of accountability for cyberspace,” highlighted the new scrutiny that Google, Facebook, and Twitter are facing over their platforms, especially with headlines over Russian election meddling and hate speech.

“An avalanche of harms is taking place across online platforms and placing great strain on our society and the values, laws, and norms that have long defined and shaped who we are,” Rivkin said.

He called for a “conversation about how we can return the internet to its original promise: a place for vibrant but civil discourse, not one where false reports are retweeted thousands of times around the world before truth has a chance to log on.”

He said internet platforms could increase their voluntary efforts to combat abuses, including piracy and counterfeiting, but he also said that laws providing legal immunity for platforms were outdated. He said Congress could look at ways to “more explicitly require proactive steps as a condition of those protections.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, gives immunity to platforms that publish third-party content. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 included a safe harbor provision that shields platforms from liability if they act expeditiously to take down pirated content.

“The internet policies that we still have in place were written at a time when the online platforms were nascent,” Rivkin said. “But they are nascent no longer. We live in an AI world that is still operating on an AOL policy framework. Yet many platforms still cite statutes written to address the specific conditions that existed in the 1990s to avoid accountability.”

Noah Theran, spokesman for the Internet Association, which represents major internet companies, said in a statement that the Communications Decency Act immunity “was written specifically to enable good online actors to police and remove illegal and illicit content from their platforms.

“Without intermediary liability protections it would be harder, not easier, for online platforms to keep bad actors off the internet,” he said. “These protections have created untold value for the entire American economy, with three quarters of the value of the internet going back to non-tech businesses such as movie studios.”

Rivkin pointed to Amazon as an example of a company that has signed on to a new global anti-piracy initiative called the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment. Its members also include Netflix, HBO, the six major studios, and other companies.

While he said the problems on platforms needed to be addressed together, he also said that “it’s worth examining how we got to this situation in the first place — where some believe that platform immunity, in other words, a complete absence of legal accountability, is a necessary condition for a vibrant internet.”