Rumor has it that Chris Dodd will be taking over the leadership of the MPAA’s policy operations, despite his claims (and the legal obligation) that he’d not become a lobbyist after leaving his 30 year time in the Senate.
The MPAA’s agenda last year ended in a wash, as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was stalled in the Senate. This bill would have made it easier for the government to shutdown websites which were “obviously” directed at distributing copyrighted material, though it also has the danger of unfairly targeting perfectly legitimate websites.
Dodd’s potential ascension leads me to wonder where the MPAA’s efforts will be directed next. Under interim leader, Bob Pisano, the priority has been very clear: stop piracy. The MPAA’s ardent support of the COICA is a clear reflection of that. But Dodd’s history as a legislator may indicate a much needed shift in the forthcoming MPAA legislative agenda. Dodd’s prior support of net neutrality is clearly at odds with the MPAA’s concern that a neutral internet is also a piracy-friendly internet.
Perhaps Dodd’s conflict with his potential future employers will lead both to consider a new approach to current issues in file sharing and copyright infringement. In focusing so much of its efforts on directly stopping filesharing, the MPAA has ignored the fact that the websites the COICA and other measures seek to eliminate are simply individual heads of a hydra, and without cauterizing the hydra’s wounds (by adapting to the new contours of the movie business), the problem simply won’t go away, and only the consumers will be left battered and bruised by overbroad protective measures.
The MPAA, and its counterparts in other industries need to understand that their industries have changed. They do not need to give up on the powers of copyright, but neither ought they hold on to the dominance of an increasingly obsolete top-down hierarchy. Regardless of the illegal origins of the new attitude toward creative works, consumers are simply no longer willing to pay nearly as much as they used to for movies and music. The businesses need to adjust their own models and meet the consumers where they are now, rather than hope that they can ultimately fix the problems with the free exchange of copyrighted materials on the internet. It’s hard to compete with free. But it’s not impossible.