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The COICA Hangover: Congress Targets Piracy (Again)

0405 hangover
A gaggle of lawmakers gathered in Washington on Monday—Washington being to lawmakers what cool mountain forests are to giant pandas and emergency rooms are to “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” performers—to renew calls for Congressional action against online content piracy. Senate and House members from both parties declared their intention to, as Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., put it, “[Come] together to carefully craft legislation.” Well, at least they’re going to be careful about it. Safety first.

The legislation is expected to bear a striking resemblance to the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last year but ran aground when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced that he would place a hold on the bill. Like the undefined future bill touted Monday, COICA enjoyed bipartisan support (insomuch as a bill, being an inanimate object without feelings, can enjoy anything). It also had the backing of that perpetual beacon of bipartisanship, President Obama.

COICA did not, however, have the support of civil-liberties and open-Internet activists, many of whom claimed that the bill overreached and would harm the Internet’s structure while failing to curb piracy. In yet another show of bipartisanship, left- and right-leaning groups spoke out Monday in advance of the Washington press conference to decry recent and future federal action aimed at Internet piracy. Patrick Ruffini, Internet director for the Republican National Committee and founder of the website www.dontcensorthenet.com, and Aaron Swartz, executive director of the progressive activist group Demand Progress, joined forces to criticize COICA and the recent seizure by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of domain names belonging to 82 online retailers alleged to have sold copyright-violating merchandise. The two took special aim at support for COICA and the agency’s action repeatedly being voiced by entertainment-industry organizations, including the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

“It’s not piracy that hurts actors; it’s the studios’ consistent refusal to embrace new technology,” Swartz told Back Stage. “If Hollywood spent as much time improving the way they sell movies online as they do trying to pass new laws controlling the Internet, piracy wouldn’t be an issue.” Swartz then went on to tell a story about wanting to watch “The Hangover,” finding it unavailable to stream or download on Netflix, iTunes, or Amazon, then walking to a local video store, where he purchased a DVD copy of the film. When he got home, he found that the disc was scratched. “When Hollywood refuses to let people pay to see these films, is it any wonder folks try to download them?” he asked.

SAG and AFTRA repeated their support for tougher anti-piracy laws Monday, joining the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Directors Guild of America in issuing a statement at the press conference. “Our members, who have always been on the forefront of technological innovation, embrace the possibilities of the digital age and the many opportunities offered by new technologies,” the unions said. “However, along with the explosive growth of the Internet has come an equally explosive proliferation of profiteers who knowingly traffic in content they have obtained illegally and played no role at all in creating or financing.”

The unions are, of course, right to take issue with so-called profiteers. But big questions surround the methods for tackling them favored by the government and industry. And as long “Hangover” DVDs keep getting scratched, the profiteers will have a market.

Pictured: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifanakis, and Ed Helms in "The Hangover."

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This is ridiculous. The piracy epidemic is being driven not by mass moral failure, but by the failure of an industry to meet consumer demand. The vast majority of those who download illegal media would be willing to pay for that media, if they could do so fairly, for a recent product, in a format that is easy to access and with a modicum of added crap.
Before I worked consistently as an actor, I was a technology consultant, and I would often see pirated software on personal and business computers. Two of the most common pirated products were Microsoft's Office suite and Adobe's Photoshop. Both cost, at the time, hundreds of dollars, so consumers would find a way to obtain them illegally, either through "borrowing" installers from their workplaces, or downloading them from file sharing sites. Ultimately, MS and Adobe got wise; Microsoft made a "student/teacher" edition of Office that could be installed legally on three computers for a little over a hundred dollars, and Adobe released Photoshop Elements, a slimmed-down version that addressed most consumer needs at a sub-hundred dollar cost. The rate of piracy went down for both products.
There will always be some people who prefer to steal what they want, but they constitute a tiny minority. When studios and distributors find a way to release a recent product, reasonably-priced, in an accessible format that can be watched on the consumer's schedule, piracy will become a non-issue. Until then, no amount of cajoling, legislating or threatening will make it go away.

Film production companies themselves are involved in piracy!

Copying the look of NYC governmental agencies [Police cars etc.] is copyright and trademark infringement? Something to think about if the City of New York or the unions really cared.

These rip offs of NYC look and feel are BEING PERPETRATED BY film companies producing in Toronto. This cost billions in NYC lost compensation and destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs.


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