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Uncontrolled Technology Spurs Appeal to Ethics

Much has been said about the music industry’s war on piracy. With CD sales in a slump, industry leaders have resorted to suing kids, or their parents, over the illegal file sharing presumed to be at the root of the trouble.

The music industry isn’t alone in its concern, however. The movie industry is growing nervous over signs that movies, too, are increasingly being pirated and made available online.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Movie files are significantly larger than music files and therefore less likely to be easily passed around in cyberspace. But given the advance of technology, it’s only a matter of time before feature-length movies can be popped onto a computer drive with ease.
 
With such rapidly advancing technology, often in the hands of children, moviemakers are appealing to ethics, morals and “respect” to help plug the anticipated leak in profits.
 
The Web site for the Motion Picture Association of America hammers visitors with information about and links to all-things copyright: The Copyright Assembly, World Intellectual Property Organization, International Intellectual Property Alliance, Friends of Active Copyright Education and on and on.
 
The MPAA has even launched a new Web site and campaign to combat piracy. The campaign is called “Movies. They’re Worth It!” and the Web site is housed at RespectCopyrights.org
 
The campaign gives several good reasons not to download movies illegally: you cheat yourself, you cheat the livelihood of industry workers, you jeopardize your computer and you break the law.
 
Folks shouldn’t illegally trade movies for those reasons and others. Yet, some of the “arguments” found on the pages of RespectCopyright.org are disingenuous and downright insulting to moviegoers.
 
For instance, consider how the MPAA explains what will happen if you “cheat yourself”:
 
“Only 4 out of 10 films turn a profit. If people take the films for free and the Studios can’t recoup their investment, they may not be able to make the big summer movies we all enjoy so much; the TITANICs, the SPIDER-MANs, the JURASSIC PARKs. So, not only will the creators lose, in the end, you, the consumer, will end up with fewer choices at the multiplex. Do you really want fewer movies to choose from?”
 
That’s interesting, because we’re already getting fewer choices, as <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Hollywood puts more of its eggs into ever-fewer baskets. These diminished choices aren’t the result of some digital-age threat, however, but from a high-stakes gamble in which studios are willing to lose money on six pictures while betting the other four will be exportable enough to make hundreds of millions when all markets are tallied.
 
The campaign strikes another sour note by trotting out the rank-and-file members of the industry—the set dressers, make-up artists, stunt people and others—as a pathos appeal, saying those people will pay the price for illegal downloads.
 
These workers do have livelihoods on the line, so it’s proper to pay attention to them. But it is disingenuous for an industry known for sparing no expense to stage a parade of “the least of these,” while coddling its own stars with salaries larger than the budget of some countries.
 
Money is still the name of the game. Studios wouldn’t be funding big-budget movies or paying stars’ salaries if they weren’t making it back somewhere.
 
But fearing it is about to be linked with a new foe—technology—the movie industry is treading cautiously. It’s as if pirates and computer geeks have Hollywood’s arm twisted behind its back, and Tinseltown, in an effort to get the bully to turn loose, is screaming “Ethics! Ethics!”
 
Hollywood’s basic argument is airtight: If you want a valued commodity like a movie, you should pay for it.
 
On the other hand, if you pay for a valued commodity like a movie, you should get it—not an overpaid star running around an over-budget set. Instead of taking responsibility for its own poor decision-making, the movie industry is attempting to curb in its favorite market: youngsters.
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.