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Matthew D. Loeb Headshot

Film Piracy Is Robbing American Workers

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It happens every day. Counterfeit DVDs are sold on the street. Pirate websites stream illegally copied first-run feature films and copyrighted television shows, without any compensation to those who created and worked on them. While people might think they're getting a steal when they download an illegal copy of the next big movie on the cheap, they're actually stealing from American workers. It's theft, plain and simple, and people need to understand the detrimental impact it has on the working men and women employed in the motion picture and television industry and on the greater economy.

The motion picture industry supports 2.4 million American jobs and contributes nearly $80 billion each year to the U.S. economy, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Researcher Stephen Siwek, in a study for the Institute for Policy Innovation, found that the theft of movies through piracy results in the loss of more than 46,000 jobs in the motion picture industry and more than 94,000 jobs in other industries that otherwise would have been created.

The notion that Hollywood and its movie moguls have no real worries is misleading. Along with the creators and artists there are droves of blue collar workers put at risk by piracy. The technicians and craftspeople -- who handle the aspects of motion picture making that many take for granted, such as editing, lighting, cameras, props, hair and makeup, costumes -- all lose money when people steal, rather than buy, movies.

That's because those who work behind the scenes derive a substantial portion of their health and retirement contributions from the revenue that their work generates in what are called secondary markets -- foreign distribution, DVD sales, and airings on TV -- long after initial distribution on television or in a theater. When motion pictures and television shows are stolen, the downstream revenue dries up, and the health and retirement plans of tens of thousands working men and women suffer. This in addition to the hardship suffered by workers if producers don't make as many movies as their prospects to profit are diminished by theft.

Each year we celebrate Labor Day. To most, this represents the end of summer and the beginning of football season. Many forget that this holiday celebrates the American worker -- that vital force of labor that drives our economy and has played such an important part in making America great.

Since 1893, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has represented the technicians and craftspeople in the entertainment industry and have made the movie and television business what it is today. Our industry is one of the bedrocks of this economy. Its creativity and innovation have made American entertainment one of our greatest exports for generations.

Motion picture and television piracy is theft of Americans' work product and stands in dark contrast with what Labor Day represents, a celebration of the contribution of the American worker. Pirates and counterfeiters don't pay wages or taxes. They don't provide benefits to working people. They don't invest in new movies or television shows or support the thousands of small business who are part of the motion picture industry. They steal -- literally -- out of the pockets of American workers, from their pensions, from their health benefits.

That's why the creative industries and the guilds and labor unions that represent industry employees are working with the federal government to combat this growing problem. Last year, President Obama named the first Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Victoria Espinel. Not long after she was confirmed, I was privileged to speak on behalf of labor at a roundtable discussion hosted by Vice President Biden with government officials and leaders from major media conglomerates, union representatives and legal experts about intellectual property rights enforcement. This was the first meeting of its kind, and it sent a message to the industry that the government recognizes the value and importance of our countries' creative industries to the economic and cultural strength of our nation. Since then the Departments of Justice, Commerce, Homeland Security and State, along with the Office of the US Trade Representative have begun to actively pursue content and product protection -- not only in our industry, but across the spectrum.

These efforts are already yielding results. One example is the recently launched initiative of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has specifically targeted websites that offer counterfeit or pirated products. In June, more than 75 of ICE's Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) agents carried out a series of enforcement actions against websites engaged in the distribution of pirated films and television programs. The agents utilized warrants to seize over 60 domain names of websites that were engaging in theft -- theft from American workers. These websites had links to more than 200 movies and more than 300 television programs that had been illegally copied in contravention of American copyright laws.

This action, aptly dubbed "Operation In Our Sites," is a clear recognition of the magnitude of the problem. In the words of ICE's Director John Morton:

American business is under assault from counterfeiters and pirates. Every day, seven days a week, criminals are stealing American ideas and products and selling them over the internet. From counterfeit pharmaceuticals and electronics to pirated movies and software, internet crooks are undermining the U.S. economy on a grand scale.

Through "Operation In Our Sites," HSI is protecting America's working men and women while targeting criminals who have no interest in the vitality of our economy or the security of our nation. Our economy depends on creating and protecting good, skilled jobs that make domestic products the rest of the world wants. What does America make that the world takes? Movies and TV shows! But, candidly, our industry needs more actions like this to make a sustained impact. We need the continued enforcement efforts of government agencies such as HSI so Americans and the world can continue to enjoy the fruits of our members' labor.

The IATSE is an International Union that represents members employed in the stagecraft, motion picture and television production, and trade show industries throughout the United States, its Territories, and Canada. For background information on the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, visit www.iatse-intl.org.