One of the more gripping moments at the Wall Street Journal’s “All Things D” conference last week had to be when an audience member asked Ari Emanuel why requiring AT&T, Verizon and Google to purge their networks of pirated material is any different than asking someone to tear up the road to prevent a criminal from ransacking your house. “You know something?
"You need to sit down,” said the co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor. “That’s a bad example. Go sit down and think of something else and come back and I’ll scream at you again.”
While this was great theater, it was also a fair capsulization of how Hollywood and Silicon Valley have interacted with each other on the issue of copyright protection over the last year or so. In other words, like children.
Each side screams at the other about how they’re right and the other side is wrong, and the world will be destroyed if the other side gets their way. Kinda reminds you of Washington, doesn’t it? How far’s that getting us?
When he wasn’t screaming, Emanuel had some solid points: if AT&T, Verizon, Google and their ilk can filter out child pornography, why can’t they do a better job at filtering out stolen content? Why can’t they put in place better safeguards to prevent offshore pirates from easily connecting with American consumers?
The following day, Google Advertising SVP Susan Wojcicki suggested Emanuel was “misinformed, very misinformed” and that Google has already “done as much as we possibly can” by investing a “huge amount” in protections such as Content ID.
While she didn’t give a lot of explanation about how Content ID works, Google Video defines it as a tool for allowing copyright owners to “easily identify and manage their content on Google Video. ID files are then run against user uploads and, if a match occurs, the video is disabled and not viewable on the site.”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but Emanuel was talking about Google searches, not YouTube, which even many Hollywood types would agree is not a bastion of copyright infringement these days. So when Wojcicki says pirated content is “not like child porn” because you know child porn when you see it but you don’t know who owns the copyright for a piece of mainstream content, she’s being a tad disingenuous.
Try typing ”Watch Men in Black 3 Free Online” in Google and check out the top search result at http://www.onlinewatchmoviesforfree.com/watch-men-in-black-3-online-free. You tell me whether or not this smells of copyright infringement. All they can possibly do? Puh-lease.
On the other hand, when moderator Walt Mossberg appeared to suggest that most people would be willing to pay a la carte for content by Aaron Sorkin, Seth MacFarlane and William Morris Endeavor’s “entire roster of clients," Emanuel tersely replied: “You can’t watch 'Homeland' and think it’s going to cost you $4.50. It doesn’t happen.”
Well, yeah, it doesn’t. Because Emanuel and studios say it doesn’t. Not because it’s inherently impossible or unprofitable.
What’s needed here is less screaming and more cool, adult negotiation. It really does no one any good — least of all consumers — for each side to be willing to fight to the death for the righteousness of their cause. (Especially since, well, we’re talking about “Men in Black," not starving children).
Is it really so hard to recognize that both sides have a legitimate right to make a profit and to come to some middle ground? It would make for far fewer entertaining confrontations at conferences. But it might just lead to a solution.