Paramount exec faces skeptical crowds on post-SOPA outreach tour
By Timothy B. Lee | Published about 11 hours ago
In recent weeks, Al Perry, a senior executive at Paramount Pictures, has toured the East Coast speaking at law schools. He has struggled to repair Hollywood's battered image and convince skeptical audiences of the need for more aggressive copyright enforcement.
The plan for the tour emerged in the wake of January's collapse of the Stop Online Piracy Act. Perry sent letters to numerous law schools.
"We at Paramount have been humbled by the strong public opposition" to SOPA, he wrote. Admitting that Paramount has "much to learn," he sought an opportunity to share Paramount's perspective and hear what students and faculty had to say.
The tour is now underway. Perry visited Yale Law School on March 27, Brooklyn Law School on Tuesday, and the University of Virginia Law School on Wednesday. Sources tell Ars that Perry made roughly the same remarks at all three events. We have the most information about Perry's Yale talk, thanks to detailed notes provided by Margot Kaminski of Yale's Information Society Project.
Hollywood's "rogue site" problem
Perry's remarks focused on the shift from peer-to-peer file-sharing to file-sharing websites. "Cyberlockers" such as Megaupload are one example. But Perry also pointed to MovieBerry
as an example of an infringing site that looks legitimate to many consumers and has even convinced legitimate companies to buy advertising.
Perry conceded that "cyberlocker" sites were not inherently illegal, but he said sites like Megaupload have crossed the line because their business model was supported by "not much else other than copyright infringement." He claimed that the top five cyberlockers get tens of billions of page views per year, generating millions of dollars in profits.
Perry emphasized the large number of jobs supported by Hollywood movies. Hollywood employs more than just actors and directors, he said. "We have drivers, florists, people moving things around." Yet thanks to online file-sharing, he claimed, Hollywood is making fewer movies, and spending less on each one. That means fewer jobs.
Perry stressed the need for additional legislation to crack down on "rogue sites." He argued that the new domain seizure powers created by the 2008 Pro-IP Act were insufficient to deal with the problem. And he denounced the OPEN Act
, sometimes touted as a SOPA alternative, as "unworkable."
At the Brooklyn event, Perry's comments were followed by a rebuttal from Brooklyn Law School Professor Jason Mazzone, who pointed out that Perry's remarks had completely ignored limitations on copyright such as fair use. According to an account
by Mazzone's colleague Derek Bambauer, Perry responded by saying that Paramount "wants to give fair use 'a wide berth,' and that their core concerns are about full downloads of their films, not uses of clips and such." But he conceded that SOPA had not made such allowances for fair use.
At the University of Virginia, Perry's remarks were followed by a rebuttal by Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, who argued that Hollywood's failing profits had less to do with Internet file-sharing than with the industry's failure to produce good movies and come up with innovative business models.
A source described the Yale audience as "very hostile" to Perry's arguments. When audience members pressed Perry on the free speech implications of SOPA-style copyright enforcement, Perry denied that there were any. Copyright infringement, he said, was "theft plain and simple," and bills like SOPA simply didn't raise First Amendment concerns.
The Yale audience also gave Perry a hard time about copyright terms; it now takes 70 years after an author's death for a work to fall into the public domain. One audience member pressed Perry on whether such a long term was necessary, asking whether Paramount could accept a shorter copyright term. Perry dodged the question, saying he was "not here to address that."
"Does it make you uncomfortable that you can't say yes?" asked another student.
Bambauer described the Brooklyn audience as "thoughtful and civil," but he said that students "evinced skepticism about the movie industry's good faith and bona fides."
The atmosphere at Virginia was relatively polite. Alan Pate, a third-year law student at Virginia, told Ars that "no one really challenged Perry that much."
When one Virginia student pressed Perry on his claim that fewer movies were being produced, Perry conceded that his numbers were limited to the major studios. He conceded that he wasn't suggesting movie production was declining overall. But he insisted that the new, independent movies were of lower quality than the big-budget films produced by the major studios.
Pate said Perry and Brodsky's arguments didn't change his views on copyright law. "It was nice to see the arguments laid out by both sides," he said. "But it didn't really change anything. My takeaway was that right now, there are no clear answers."
But another Virginia attendee expressed surprise that Perry hadn't made more effort to meet skeptical audiences halfway. "You don't get unlimited chances to address people," the source said. By making essentially the same arguments the studios had made before the SOPA debacle, the source told us, Perry missed an opportunity to persuade the next generation of lawyers.