I am not writing to support every aspect of the two pieces of legislation dealing with internet piracy, nor am I suggesting that better alternatives can't be found. But in the middle of this debate, it can be forgotten that what's at issue is theft of something that either has value or does not. I belong to the Writers Guild of America and The Directors Guild of America. In trying to stop piracy, we are not trying to get rid of ships or the free flow of goods. In trying to arrest the fence, we are not trying to get rid of the corner store.
A previous writer wrote, "At stake is everyone's democratic right to information." Perhaps, but in my case and the case of many others, what's also at stake is economic survival. And dignity. Someone has their hand in my pocket, my hands are shackled, and a lot of people seem to think this is just fine. Some even brag (right here on Huffington Post!) about how often they steal from those whose work they admire and enjoy.
I wrote and directed a movie called The Ledge. It took me seven years to get it made. It was in competition at Sundance last year and subsequently made a little money. Far, far less than it should have because if you search the internet for The Ledge Free Download you'll find many places where you can download it for nothing. If you do so, you are not just stealing from me, you are also (by making films less profitable), ultimately stealing from the production designer and his staff, the cinematographer and his crew, the composer, the editor, the actors, and the carpenters, grips, assistants, sound recordists, extras, drivers, all of whom gave their brains, their time, and their muscles to this risky "piece of work".
I don't say this "piece of art" because "art" somehow suggests an activity above commerce, or aside from it. This, of course, is bullshit. I've never met a professional "artist" or artisan who wasn't concerned about money in one way or another. Everyone has to pay rent, take care of their kids -- survive through work. But in this discussion our work is constantly devalued. If shipments of American TV sets, DVD players, and computers were being stolen from planes or ships so often and with such impunity that it was putting Americans out of work and jeopardizing whole industries, you can be damn sure we'd find a way to stop it.
So, do these devices have more intrinsic value than the products of the imagination that flow through them? From the tone of much of this debate it would seem so. This is a denigration of craft and craftsmen, of art and artists, and of the imagination itself. This is American anti-intellectualism at its worst. This is not just about defending the free flow of information, something I wholly support, this is also about workers in a strange and insecure business getting robbed by cowardly thieves made rich by inadvertent philistines.
Matthew Chapman is the director of The Ledge.