Digital distribution, not SOPA and PIPA, is the best long-term solution for the MPAA

Fightforthefuture.org declared victory yesterday, saying that SOPA and PIPA have been dropped. Their e-mail said some other important and interesting things, but most importantly, it made some references to China. Communist China. Totalitarian Communist China.

The distinction is important.
One thing we have to remember is that the MPAA and RIAA have held up China’s Internet policies as a sort of ideal.

Except for one very obvious point. This isn’t China. Our Constitution guarantees us, among other things, freedom of speech and due process. And yes, the MPAA has the right to copyright protection, but that right doesn’t trump other rights. To quote my journalism professor Don Ranly, “My rights end at the tip of your nose.”

When my right to freedom of speech hinders the MPAA, I have a problem. That’s why I can’t libel or slander them. The MPAA seems to have some problems with the idea that when its efforts to protect copyright hinder innocent, non-infringing speech and subvert due process, that’s a problem.

The recent success of online MP3 stores, not to mention Netflix and other streaming video services, proves that people are willing to pay for digital content. Make it convenient and make the price fair, and people will come, the same way they did in the 1980s with movies on VHS tape. Piracy was an issue in the 1980s too, but the increased revenue proved to be worth the trade-off. Today there are better ways to detect and track it, and I would recommend the MPAA spend its money on developing technical solutions to detect and correct violations rather than spending its money trying to build a totalitarian state. Meanwhile, they should aggressively pursue licensing deals, rather than trying to punish companies like Netflix.

Movie sales and revenue are down, but there are several logical explanations for that.

1. The economy is hurting, people realize they’ve been spending $20 on movies that they watched twice and never watched again and now are taking up precious room in the house, and they’ve cut that discretionary expense to save precious money and space, both of which are in limited supply–especially since some people have had to downsize.

2. DVDs, when properly cared for, are more durable than VHS tapes were, so popular titles on DVD are less apt to wear out and require replacement purchase.

3. DVD sales in the previous decade were largely driven by people upgrading their personal collections to DVD, much like music sales were. But that’s slowed down now.

4. People haven’t been as quick to replace their DVDs with Blu-Rays as they were to replace their VHS tapes. But the improvement from DVD to Blu-Ray isn’t as dramatic as the improvement from VHS to DVD was. Not to mention Blu-Ray was released just as many people finished upgrading to DVD, consumers were confused by the initial availability of two different and incompatible HD DVD replacements, and by the time Blu-Ray emerged as the standard, the country was in its worst recession in 70 years.

5. There are always some people who think this year’s movies aren’t as good as movies from past years.

6. The price to rent a movie dropped from $6 to $1, thanks to Netflix and Redbox, while the cost to buy a movie stayed the same. It used to make sense to buy a movie if you thought you were going to want to watch it four times, but now you can rent a movie 10 or 15 times for the price of buying it, so there’s less incentive to buy a movie now unless you really like it.

7. And finally, there’s piracy. Piracy has been an issue since the 1970s, but it’s easier to measure now than it was then.

The only two of those factors the MPAA can hope to control are the last two. I would argue that fighting Netflix and Redbox is a bad strategy for the long term, but they’re within their rights to do that.

Cheap, convenient digital distribution would address virtually all of those problems while not infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights. It could also eventually mean the MPAA and movie studios would make money every time someone watched a movie, which ought to be a dream.

Digital distribution, not more legislation, is the best long-term solution to the problem.

But I think more people expect to see a revised SOPA and PIPA before the MPAA realizes that.

One thought on “Digital distribution, not SOPA and PIPA, is the best long-term solution for the MPAA

  • January 21, 2012 at 10:47 pm
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    Good article. It’s ironic that the MPAA would strive for our country’s internet policy to be like the one they blame most for piracy.

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