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Google, Netflix, and Other Pirates

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“This isn’t one of those stories about a big Hollywood company suing a big Silicon Valley company for copyright infringement.” That’s how NPR’s Laura Sydell opened her excellent piece last week on Ellen Seidler, the woman who, if there is any sense in Hollywood—and there isn’t, but using our imaginations is fun—will be made the face of the entertainment industry’s anti-piracy crusade, like Smokey the Bear and forest-fire prevention or Dan Quayle and aggressive mediocrity.

As NPR reported, Seidler is an independent filmmaker who got a bit pissed off when she discovered that her movie “And Then Came Lola” was available on multiple websites that deal in pirated content. She became more than a bit pissed off when she realized that the sites offering her movie for free were supported by advertisements from companies such as Sony, Dell, and even legitimate streaming-video provider NetFlix. Most of the ads appeared via Google’s AdSense service. In high dudgeon, Seidler—who with her co-director invested $250,000 of personal cash into “Lola” and has yet to recoup that investment—set up a blog, PopUpPirates.com, where she keeps a record of the companies whose ads appear on Web pages where her film can be viewed or downloaded illegally.

“Every time one of these illegal files is added to a website where these ads appear, Google and et al earn money at the expense of the content creators,” Seidler wrote at her site. “This just isn’t right.”

No, it isn’t right. But despite being on the side of truth, justice, and adorable kittens, Hollywood’s endless war against piracy has been about as successful as BP’s endless war against a hole in the ground. Why? Well, as has been pointed out here before, it doesn’t help that industry groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the guilds always fall back on language that paints content consumers as mustache-twirling villains and corporate entities as the pure young damsels tied to the train tracks. But there’s reason to hope that the unions may be abandoning the “Hey you kids, get off my lawn” approach to framing the piracy argument. In a joint statement last month welcoming a new White House anti-piracy initiative, SAG, AFTRA, the DGA, and IATSE noted, “The Internet should not be used as a means to support criminal activity, and therefore all participants in the supply chain—not just content providers but also ISPs, advertising brokers, payment processors, and search engines—must play a role in stopping online theft.” That’s a far cry from the scolding tone adopted by AFTRA president Roberta Reardon back in a March AFL-CIO statement on piracy: “It’s important to remember that downloading illegal content is the same as walking into a record or book store and stealing a CD or DVD.”

Reardon’s words place responsibility squarely on consumers—many of whom are young, many of whom probably don’t like being called shoplifters. The more recent statement focuses on the entities that profit from and help facilitate the illegal distribution of artists’ work. It’s an approach you could call Seidleresque—one the industry should embrace more fully.

So remember, Google—and Netflix, Xerox, Sony, Dell, Radio Shack, eBay, Ameritrade, MySpace, etc.—only you can prevent piracy.

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Respectfully, Daniel...they ARE shoplifters. Who cares if they like it or not? A decade or more after the users of Napster destroyed the music industry, it's a little disingenuous to be tolerating consumers as cry-babies as opposed to respectful of others and their property.

It's really cavalier to dash off an article like this that is so dismissive of the responsibility we all have, simple consumers or anyone else, to abide by the law. People like to text while driving - I guess we should just let them, because they don't LIKE being told not to. I applaud ALL efforts to maintain mutual respect and rights, heavy handed or not.

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