MPAA Sues TV File Sharing Sites

By Richard Menta 5/12/05

Why is Dan Glickman, the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), suing TV download sites?

I already know the answer, many of the movie companies that make up its membership also produce television shows. It still doesn't sound right that the MPAA should be the representative of the TV networks even if Disney owns the ABC network now. But there is Dan Glickman, swathed in indignant self-righteousness, with a cause and a megaphone.

Richard Menta

Dan's latest cause is what he calls TV piracy. You know, when people make copies of television programs. The thing is millions of people do it every day with their VCRs, an act that according to the Supreme Court is not piracy, but fair and legal use. Glickman, of course, sees file sharing as a different animal, but as I detailed in my article last February "Can Free Broadcast TV Really Be Napsterized?" in the TV world the two are not all that different.

Between the taping of a TV show and downloading the same show from the Net, far, far more people tape than download. In the end it is all the same, the user ends up with a copy that they can keep or erase once they catch up with the episode. As video files take up a lot of space on the hard drive I suspect people discard these files as frequently as they they record over older shows on tape. Even if someone copies these programs to DVD this act is no different than keeping that episode of the Gilmore Girls on tape in a nice safe place for repeated viewing.

"Every television series depends on other markets (such as) syndication and international sales to earn back the enormous investment required to produce the comedies and dramas we all enjoy," said Glickman in a statement posted on CNET. "Those markets are substantially hurt when that content is stolen."

Glickman - an alarmist and an opportunist - likes to use words like stolen, because the papers will print it. But there is no evidence that file sharing has affected syndication and DVD sales, both which are dramatically up. In fact, as I pointed out in my "Napsterized" article, file sharing of one cancelled show may be the root of its recent return to prime time TV. That show is the Family Guy.

But then this is as much about turf as it is about copyright. Dan wants to claim TV as his turf, something the Comcasts, Foxs, and NBCs of the world feel they control. Maybe they are already working with him, I don't know.

What I do know is that the MPAA's latest crusade is a fallacy. Maybe Dan hasn't caught Kingdom of Heaven yet?


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