THE BLOG
06/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's Creativity, Stupid -- Protect It

Hugh Jackman says he is "heartbroken" his new film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was leaked online a month before its official release. ''It's a serious crime and there's no doubt it's very disappointing - I was heartbroken by it,'' Jackman said. ''Obviously people are seeing an unfinished film. It's like a Ferrari without a paint job." And former Beatle Paul McCartney applauds the decision to send the founders of Pirate Bay (an illegal file sharing site) to prison for copyright infringement. McCartney told reporters that "artists deserved to get paid, and he felt fortunate the Beatles made it big before the popularity of file-sharing networks." McCartney says "Anyone who does something good, particularly if you get really lucky and do a great artistic thing and have a mega hit, I think you should get rewarded for that, and he adds, "particularly for young bands and they've got a young family, I don't want to see them destitute after a couple of years when they were mega. They're going to feed the children on that and if they don't get that money, if they don't see that money, I think it's a bit of a pity. So I think it's fair." (The court ordered sentence)

Jackman and McCartney have joined with millions of others who are starting to "get it"-don't steal my lifetime's work or you will go to jail. Simple concept to grasp, right? Not really. Because we have allowed a whole generation to get away with stealing and done nothing major about it except litigate, and worse, we have created a PR nightmare that makes the pirates look cool and the artists look stodgy. The current piracy issue is fraught with partisan bickering. You have the pirates and their supporters declaring "everything should be free..." and you have major studios and labels suing as their business strategy. One of the quotes that struck me as so out-of-touch was Peter Sunde's (one of the Pirate Bay founders) lawyer describing the Pirate Bay verdict as "a battle between the corporate world and a generation of young people who want to take part in new technology..." That's nonsense. Stealing is not "taking part in new technology." This generation's laissez-faire attitude toward copyright that Sunde's lawyer is referring to is our fault. We have fundamentally failed to educate an entire generation and we are working on the second. And the failure starts here in the US. Intellectual property is one of our biggest exports and yet we fail to teach our children not to steal it on the internet. U.S. intellectual property is worth approximately $5-5.5 trillion dollars per year to the economy- obviously entertainment is only a portion of that figure. I would think in a country where manufacturing has taken a huge hit (witness the auto industry) we might want to put a little effort into teaching our population why music, movies, software and games are not free just because you can find them on a website. We now live in a society where you either wash the car or design the car, but you no longer manufacture it in the US. We should start making a better effort at making sure people understand that this is about jobs and the economy. The bulk of the movie and music industry jobs are good solid middle class jobs.

The impact on middle class workers, present and future, gets lost in a sea of rhetoric. The issue has become polarized and the good guys look bad and the bad guys look cool. These guys are the 21st century version of the Sopranos. They appear to be beyond hip and cool, but the bottom line is they are ignorant, selfish criminals who make money off other peoples work. A perfect example of that is the motley crew of Pirate Bay describe themselves as "heroes" and as they say, "as in all good movies the heroes lose in the beginning, but have an epic victory in the end - that's the only thing Hollywood ever taught us..." If that is the only lesson these "bandits" have taken away from Hollywood, then they clearly have not been paying attention to this industry. It is an industry where artists get paid for creating movies people want to see, games people want to play, music people want to listen to and television people want to watch - and yes as part of this system there are giant corporate conglomerates that make much of the business possible, so they get paid as well.

While I would agree that in order to win over Pirate Bay users, content owners need to loosen up their relationship with technology and stop using litigation as a business strategy. Clearly consumers want to get their content, whether it is TV, movies, music, UGC on the internet- Comscore's Video Metrix data shows that U.S. Internet users viewed 13.1 billion online videos during the month of February alone - that is a lot of online viewing! This data proves that there is a legitimate business to be had in distributing content on the internet - the consumer is there, now we need to teach them that Pirate Bay (and sites like it) should not be their number one choice in entertainment shopping.

File sharing won't go away, and frankly, it shouldn't. Consumers want it and demand it and should have it. The entertainment industry needs to address it in a committed fashion. But does the imprisonment of the Pirate Bay owners accomplish anything? Absolutely. Does it decrease piracy, encourage inventors and entrepreneurs not to promote stealing as a business model or does it just increase the partisan sound-bite war? It does a little of both, it educates and reminds everyone it is illegal to steal. And that education ultimately protects jobs in the intellectual property field. I happen to know it has an impact first hand - While I was the VP of Intellectual Property Enforcement at MGM Studios, I found Randy Guthrie illegally selling MGM's prized franchise, boxed sets of James Bond movies online. As a result of my efforts to track him down with law enforcement, Guthrie, an American citizen, spent years in a Chinese prison (that cannot be pleasant) and was extradited to the US to continue a long sentence in a Mississippi prison and pay a huge fine. This story got a tremendous amount of press around the world. And it reminds people that stealing movies is a crime and when you get caught, the penalty is steep. What's the lesson here? It is important to protect creativity - and that just doesn't mean actors and directors. It means struggling writers, make up artists, set designers and assistants. We need to actively pursue these bottom feeders that sell America's creativity for their own benefit while simultaneously educating our young people and challenging them to come up with new business models to match today's technology. That would be heroic.

Our children should understand the relationship between technology and entertainment-they have always been intertwined - (what industry first embraced technology, motion pictures, it is called the camera) and cannot live without each other. While the relationship has been tense at times: the player piano, the television, the VCR - all predicted to "end the business..." and none did, what they did do was create new revenue streams and grow the business like never before. And then along came Napster - and unfortunately the music business' reaction was to ignore and then once the technology was firmly in place, sue the consumer and the creators of the technology. And we all know how that has worked out.

History shows that major innovations create major opportunities. The visionaries benefit, the fearful resist and languish. The key has always been seeing the change and adapting. Something that music has failed to do, and something that the studios need to hasten. There are so many legitimate video and music sites that compensate artists and the studios and labels that support them, using the very same technology that the pirate's use - our job is to make sure the population knows the difference.

Evolve and educate.

Laura Tunberg is a Digital Content Strategist at We Get It Consulting and Former VP of Intellectual Property Enforcement, MGM Studios.

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