By Robert Menta- 4/12/01
It's not a Hollywood movie, though I wouldn't be surprised if it gets the attention of Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). No, this is an independent 2-reeler, a satire shot in video and streamed over the Net. The same Net that has been under attack from the MPAA and its music industry peer the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for creating wonderful innovations that serve the consumer, but threaten the hegemony of these two highly profitable industries.
The movie opens on the premise that one year from now MP3's are illegal, all copies of Napster have been destroyed, and an MP3 task force has been created to seek out and arrest anyone caught pirating MP3 music on their computers.
More a parody of a UPN action series that a feature length film, the protagonists are two rock musicians turned bounty hunters who open the movie guns drawn on our evil doer, a dope…er MP3 dealer.
Like TV cops, they rough the guy up and drag him into the police station for a good old hard nose interrogation against a surly, unapologetic infringer of copyrights. Taking a Joe McCarthyesque turn, our heroes try to get the dealer to rat out his sources and his clients. Beating the information out of him, the MP3 task force goes about its duty, cleaning up the world for God, country, and the RIAA.
The movie is OK, it's a one joke plot that won't have you rolling in the aisles (though revealing one of the MP3 cops succumbing to the lure of Napster was a welcomed twist. I wonder how many police and FBI agents are among the now 70+ million Napster users).
But as I watched this short - a paranoid fantasy some would call it - I just couldn't help thinking of the real life raids against Oklahoma State student Scott Wickberg (see Oklahoma Student to be Sacrificial Lamb in MP3 Wars) and Jeffrey Levy in Oregon.
In the real raids, Levy and Wickberg were not beaten by police (though if they tried to resist those clubs would have come out), but they did have to go through the humiliation of walking to a squad car hand cuffed in full view of their school mates and neighbors. That is part of the burden of being the "example" for the RIAA. That at the time of the arrests no court or law had yet declared the act of trading MP3 files illegal only further illustrates that the excesses the directors use to poke fun in the movie are not all that far into the ridiculous. Levy and Wickberg may not have been questioned under a single bright lamp, but they were questioned.
Both Levy and Wickberg paid for their file trading. Wickberg got two years probation and a $5,000 fine while Levy received a $25,000 fine. Both also had to endure the burden of legal fees.
As Dave Marsh wrote in his February 19th article Prohibition:
According to the Pew study, 79% of music downloaders don't pay. This makes sense since 63% of them say they have stored fewer than 25 songs on their hard drive - that is, they're listening to sample. Still, it's now a crime, even though 78% of music downloaders don't think they're stealing.
Will this attitude change? The record label cartel, working closely with the FBI, plans to force it to change. If you are determined to have too many copyrighted files on your hard drive, your equipment will be seized and you will be charged with a felony.
Produced by Joseph and Dylan Conner, what this movie does is serve as another PR hit for Big Music. The recording industry's witch hunt of digital music companies and the very individuals who use their services have already demonized them in the eyes of many consumers. Worse yet for them, it has also created a debate in the press that has laid bare some if the industry's most devious practices, acts that otherwise would have remained invisible to the populace at large. Interestingly, Big Music doesn't seem to care very much, which demonstrates how arrogant one can get when they are part of an oligopoly.
The movie is available on FilmWave.com and can be seen here.
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