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Appeared on: Sunday, January 16, 2005
The Homeland, the Religion and the Copyright

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Jack Valenti is the man in power of the film industry. Being the Chairman and the managing director of the Motion Picture Association of America, he became particularly known in the years 1983-84 when he relentlessly fought against the new invention of the time, the home video. He brought a suit against Sony, the overpowering due to the Betamax system company in the market at the time, and demanded from the American courts of law that they ban these devices on the grounds that they were the media to the “expropriation of intellectual property”: anyone possessing such a device could copy (steal as he had put it) a movie shown on TV without imbursing the copyright to its creators and naturally to the companies he himself represented. The case reached the USA Supreme Court, which ruled out his plaint taking under consideration the fact that copying a movie shown on TV for personal use was justifiable and furthermore, a technology was not to be banned just because it had a negative impact on a branch of industry. Valenti was taken aback not so much by the definitive judgment of the court as by what was to follow in the market: the VCR became a second golden goose to the film companies which, through video clubs sold the same product for a second time-cash flowing into their tills, at lower prices though. As for the ones who copied films, they finally were proved to be a minor threat to the profits of the film industry.

Years passed by, Sony, from a technology producer has become a film producer as well, Jack Valenti remains the man in power of the industry and a new threat has started baring its teeth against the film companies’ tills. Digital technology allows all users to replicate exact copies of every intellectual product and the Internet helps to their immediate exchange.

Content-selling companies indulged in ruthless judicial conflicts: the Record Companies Association versus Napster, the Motion Picture Association versus the users of the program that unlatches DVD discs. Apart from all these, a huge public relations campaign was launched to persuade the public that “what is to the Warner Brothers benefit, is America’s welfare too.”

“The copyright industry (record companies, cinema companies and publishing houses) has opened three times as many work places as the rest of the American economy”, claims Jack Valenti in the Newsweek desktop version, “its exports are larger than the ones accomplished by the aviation industry, agriculture and the automobile industry. It has achieved commercial benefit with all the countries of the world, when the rest of the economy bleeds due to commercial deficits amounting the unholy sum of 277 billion dollars.

What amazes mostly, is the fact that the copyright industry is universally acceptable. America’s productions are pleasantly assimilated by every civilization, doctrine and country on this planet. American cinema is omnipresent throughout the world…

“Now the Internet has turned up. American film producers have welcomed this novel miracle. For the film industry, it has a huge potential as a new system of distribution…

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But, for the time being, some alarming trends seem to be in conflict with this future…there is this pagan philosophy being created on the Internet claiming “ since it’s on the net its free”. It is the Napster syndrome that shook music industry. The law courts declared “enough is enough” and Napster, as a provider of free music is counting its days. Yet, new, more difficult to trace sites will take its place, because the mentality has not changed. To convince someone to pay for something that is on the Internet is becoming more and more difficult.

The blow musical companies have received is felt by cinema as well. Nowadays, 300,000 movies are illegally downloaded from the Internet every day, defying both permission and pay. By the end of the year, the illegally downloaded movies will reach 1,000,000 per day! From the moment when millions of homes yet to come will have obtained really fast wide range connections on the Internet, with compression programs, everyone will be able to illegally download a good quality movie every day. That will be committed by sensible people who would react at the thought of lifting something from a supermarket. Yet, these people will use products that will not be licensed and they will not have to pay for them; this is the supposedly new decorum on the Internet.

This fact constitutes a complicated as well as catastrophic threat, which can minimize if not dissolve a unique creative and economic American prize. It is a source of danger for the copyright industry as a whole… Considering Talleyrand’s saying, “it will be worse than a crime, it will be a mistake” to let the most valuable product to be exported die away and decay just because technology makes its “theft” easier. But that does not make it the right choice.”

“Now”, Jack Valenti notes, “ a large number of film studios are getting ready to join the online distribution by the end of the year, offering movies at reasonable prices (as defined by consumers). Some members of the Congress have pointed out that access to lawfully provided films will operate to counterbalance the “everything’s free” Internet philosophy. We will soon find out whether they are right. Secondly, film companies in tandem with top technology specialists will move on to “encoding the content” of their movies as well as to digitally print watermarks (Author’s Note: to tell whether a copy is either legal or illegal)… Yet, devoted “hackers” will be able to by-pass them all. But 99% of the Americans are neither hackers, nor will they act against the law if legal copies are available at reasonable prices on the Internet. I believe that…”

Jack Valenti…
… graduated from high school when he was just 15 years of age. Born in Texas in 1921, he obtained his Bachelor Degree from Huston University and his MBA from Harvard. In 1952 he set up an advertising company that was in charge of USA President John F. Kennedy’s public relations in Texas. After JFK’s assassination he became the next President’s, Lyndon B. Johnson’s councilor, a post which he resigned from to become the third in a row Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. He has written four books: “The Bitter Taste of Glory”, “A Very Human President”, “Speak up with Confidence” and the political novel “Protect and Defend”.

By Pashos Mandravelis.

email to P. Mandravelis

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