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Chris Dodd Defends Hollywood, Ignores Censorship Issues

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“Our product is being stolen,” Dodd said of the motion picture industry.

CREDIT: Flickr / Center for American Progress Action Fund

Once an elected official advocating for Americans’ right to free speech and a free press, Chris Dodd is now touting principles mirrored in pending legislation that could wreak havoc on the Internet and censor seemingly legal sites.

Dodd, the new chief of the Motion Pictures Association of America and a former U.S. Senator from Connecticut, spoke this week about related issues at “Copyright and Creativity,” an event hosted by the Center for American Progress, our parent organization. While he was not legally allowed to discuss the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), his rhetoric echoed familiar defenses of the legislation.

(The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Internet Censorship Bills.)

Dodd framed the discussion of online piracy around the movie and TV industries and the 2.2 million Americans who work in those sectors. The average worker, he told the audience, makes $55,000 a year; they’re blue-collar jobs with good benefits, he added, and film shoots aid local businesses, from lumber yards to caterers.

“Our fight against content theft is not a fight against technology,” Dodd said. “It is a fight against criminals. … Indeed, it is fundamentally a fight to protect jobs.”

While these workers certainly deserve their shot at the American Dream, is legislation like SOPA really the best way to help them do that?

“Our product is being stolen,” Dodd said, citing a study by brand protection company Envisional that claims nearly 25 percent of all Internet traffic is infringing content.

Setting aside the shortcomings of that study, the researchers found that only 1.4 percent of infringement occurs via video streaming, a main target of SOPA and the movie industry. To compare, Netflix’s legal streaming service takes up about 23 percent of all Internet traffic. 

Dodd also claimed that theft of creative content costs as many as 373,000 jobs each year and a $58 billion loss to the U.S. economy, citing some highly dubious statistics from the International Policy Institute, a conservative think tank.

But Hollywood, Dodd said, is “constantly evolving our business model in response to what our customers want.” He highlighted innovative content delivery systems such as the up-and-coming Ultraviolet technology, which allows users to purchase content once and then view it in multiple formats.

Hollywood is likely on the right track there. Giving customers wide-ranging, affordable options has been proven to drive down piracy, though rental delay windows, which push back release on Netflix, Redbox, and other like services, are still an issue—one that ought to be addressed, given Dodd’s own citation that 70 percent of motion picture revenue comes from aftermarket sources such as DVDs.

In a discussion after Dodd’s speech, ThinkProgress blogger Alyssa Rosenberg raised some key questions about copyright and creativity in general. (ThinkProgress is a project of the Center for American Progress, our parent organization.)

Is the streaming model a threat to the business model of theatrical releases? Are there certain tactics, such as bans on circumvention tools, that we should take off the table so repressive regimes can’t point to our use of them? And do we really need a 75-year-long copyright?

Dodd said streaming doesn’t pose a serious threat, noting that people who own 6-7 “devices,” like smartphones or laptops, report going to the movies twice as often as the average American. And he replied diplomatically that there are legitimate questions and balances to strike in both of the latter cases.

Dodd claimed that “Hollywood loves the Internet,” adding that it’s “lunacy” to think American consumers have to decide between technology and content.

But on the subject of censorship, Dodd seemed off-base. Citing his long experience as a “progressive advocate” on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and familiarity with totalitarian censorship, Dodd said he “found absolutely reprehensible the comparisons some have made between the efforts to shut down foreign rogue sites and the policies of oppressive governments.”

Dodd failed to note, however, that while the reasons for censorship in the U.S. and China may differ, many of the mechanisms would be the same under SOPA. Internet service providers and search engines could be forced to block sites entirely, potentially using the same DNS-blocking techniques as China, if the legislation is passed as it was introduced.

Additionally, the same kinds of circumvention tools that the State Department has advocated citizens use to bypass restrictions from oppressive regimes could be criminalized under the new measures.

Dodd appears to have reversed course on his opinions about China and censorship since joining the MPAA. And while a new amendment to SOPA introduced this week softens some of its worst provisions, it’s still a censorship bill.

Protecting Hollywood shouldn’t mean forgetting the First Amendment.

Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.

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