While piracy is always a pressing issue in the entertainment industry, traditionally, during the time immediately following the Oscars, such illegal activities tend to increase.
We chatted with Robert Jacobs, co-chair of Entertainment Litigation at L.A.-based law firm Manatt, Phelps & Philips (who primarily handles copyright infringement cases in the music industry) to find how he thinks the motion picture and TV industries can avoid the same damages of the music industry.
VideoAge International: Do you suspect that SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) Act and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) are dead in the water after being met with such strong opposition from Internet groups?
Robert Jacobs: It’s a political hot potato. There’s a decent chance that the indsutry will take another run at getting something done legislatively. I’m not too hopeful about it, though.
The issue is like a three legged stool –– with the creators, content owners and content distributors. If you take any one out of the equation it falls over. Each constituency has different leverage, but all their reasons and desires are intertwined.
VAI: You don’t think the issue should involve the government?
RJ: We need an industry solution not a legislative solution. We need to keep it in the hands of the companies.
Everyone — the online distributors, content owners and creators — need to sit down and talk about it.
They need to create some sort of service that offers revenue sharing between the three arms, that is better maintained, with better quality picture and sound than you could get from illegal sites. It also has to be cost effective for consumers.
VAI: What are some of the differences between piracy within the TV and movie businesses and the music business?
RJ: The most obvious off the bat is that a song is a much more truncated piece of content than a movie or TV series. It used to be a lot easier for pirates to deliver a song than a movie, but that’s not the case anymore. The technology is making it easier for pirates.
VAI: Do you expect Hollywood to handle the issue of piracy more effectively than the music industry did?
RJ: Everyone has learned from the recording industry’s mistakes. They were in denial for years, and are finally trying to embrace technology now.
The studios have learned from them, but with the recent acceleration of technology in the Internet space, the studios need to jump in and find a solution. It may not be analogous to what the music industry has come up with, but there needs to be more partnership with Silicon Valley.
Everyone has a legitimate postion at this point, and there’s a lot of money to split.
VAI: It sees to us that staggered international release dates make things even more complicated — and pirated content even more attractive around the world. How can the entertainment business deal with global leaks?
RJ: It’s tremendously complex because different jurisdictions have different attitudes toward the problem. It’s difficult to corral everyone. There was some success in France, but other countries-–– including some in the EU –– refuse to deal with the problem.
Keeping the issue in the hands of the companies helps avoid problems with countries’ differing rules.
VAI: What are some of your predictions for the future?
RJ: I think we need to come up with a viable alternative to online piracy that’s cost-effective and looks and sounds good.
But there’s no rest for the weary. The question is what can Hollywood do with the Googles of the world, and how can they marry their interests?
The trick is to harnass the power that the studios and Google have and come together so that everyone can get a piece of the pie. I think we’ll see a model with a royalty-type component that’s subscription-based, which is harnessed through the presentation of the Googles of the world.
VAI: What about the smaller producers and content creators?
RJ: That’s more difficult. The studios should be the first ones in. If they can figure something out, derivative formats can be made for smaller producers. It’s hard to imagine a one-size-fits-all answer, but if we start with larger players, than more will be achieved down the road. The studios have the biggest dogs in the fight.
VAI: Do you think that ultimately people are willing to pay for content on the Web? Or do they want it all for free?
RJ: If it’s well-priced, and has an interface and an experience that’s positive, they’re willing to pay for it. If it’s fuzzy images, poor audio, like many pirated sites are… people are going to want it for free.
But the truth is that the potential for legal repercussion doesn’t come to bear on most people, so you need to create an experience that they actually want to pay for.
VAI: Do you expect Hollywood to launch legal crackdowns on consumers viewing pirated material?
RJ: No, we see from the experience of the music industry that trying that approach doesn’t bode well. It’s a tremendous use of the companies’ and judicial resourced. There’s overall too much negative press surrounding that.
VAI: Online piracy has been around almost since the dawn of the Internet. Should more have been done earlier?
RJ: You can trace this all back to the mid-’90s when piracy took off. There was a complete refusal to accept the reality of what was happening. There was a culture that said whatever’s available on the Internet should be free.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but people should have been educated to understand that online piracy is theft. If we had done this earlier, consumers would’ve appreciated early on that what they’re getting is the hard, creative work of an artist and a lot of investment by content owners.
The trick is for the industry to harness the incredible value it has, and get consumers to understand that just as they’re paying for extra options on their cell phones, they should do that for entertainment, too.