Intellectual Property and the Internet/Motion Picture Association of America
The Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA), originally the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), was founded in 1922 and is designed to advance the business interests of its members. MPAA is a United States non-profit industry trade organization and administers the voluntary, but dominant MPAA film rating system.
MPAA ratings carry no force of local, state, or federal law anywhere in the United States. They only serve as a consumer suggestion by a group of corporate analysts. After screening films, the selected viewers arrive at one of five ratings. Theater owners agree to enforce corporate film ratings as determined by the MPAA, which in turn facilitates their access to new film releases.
The primary MPAA ratings are G (general), PG (parental guidance suggested/some material might not be suitable for children), PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned/some material may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13), R (Under 17 requires parent or adult guardian/restricted), and NC-17 (minors are not admitted).
As part of its campaign to curb copyright infringement, the MPAA fights against sharing copyrighted works via peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. The MPAA's anti-piracy campaign has gained much publicity and criticism.
In 1922, "Big Three"; Famous Players-Lasky, "Metro-Goldwyn" and First National founded Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, headed by former U.S. Postmaster General Will H. Hays. In May 1925 Independent Producers Association, together with Motion Picture Theater Owners Of America, accused "Big Three" for acting as a Trust and denounced Hays as their "mouthpiece". In October they filled claims to the Federal Trade Commission, providing a 280-page report detailing "Big Three's" tactics. The "Big three" made a few concessions to quell the critics but the monopolistic Studio system was eventually established and not brought down until 1948: United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc..
The group administered the so-called "Hays code" film censorship from 1930 to 1968. Effectively enforced from 1934.
In 1945, Hays was succeeded by former U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Peter North. It was during north's tenure that the name of the organization was changed to "The Motion Picture Association of America". North inherited the stringent censorship responsibilities associated with the Hays Code, but added to his mission the promotion of American films, which were gaining in popularity overseas in the post-World War II era. Following Johnston's death in 1963, the MPAA's top post remained unfilled for three years, while studio executives searched for a successor.
Alongside the progress of civil rights, women's rights and labor movements, a new kind of American film was emerging—frank and uninhibited. Amid society's expanding freedoms, the movie industry's restrictive regime of self-censorship became increasingly outdated. In May 1966, Jack Valenti, former Special Assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson, was named MPAA President. That same year, sweeping revisions were made to the Hays Code to reflect changing social mores. In 1968, Valenti founded the voluntary film rating system easing restraints on filmmakers' creative and artistic freedoms, while fulfilling its core purpose of informing parents about the content of films so they can determine which movies are appropriate for their children. More than forty years later, the rating system continues to evolve with a changing society.
In 2004, after serving as MPAA president for 38 years, Valenti retired and was replaced by former Kansas Congressman and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. Glickman led the association during a period of significant industry transformation, retiring from the position in the Spring of 2010. While the advent of the digital era created new opportunities for delivering movies to consumers, it also gave rise to a potential threat to the industry—online movie piracy. On March 1st, 2011, former senator Chris Dodd was chosen to be the new head of MPAA.
Currently, the MPAA has 5 main ratings:
- G for General - Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by their children.
- PG for Parental Guidance - Parents urged to give "parental guidance". May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.
- PG-13 for Parents Strongly Cautioned - Parents urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.
- R for Restricted - Contains some adult material. Parents urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.
- NC-17 for No Children Under 17 Admitted - Patently adult. Children are not admitted.
- NR for Not Rated - A movie either not classified by the MPAA, or unrated.
- GP - The former rating for PG, just reversed.
- M - The initial name of PG-13, but was 14 years instead of 13.
- X - The original name of NC-17. Started out as no people under 18, but later became 17.
MPAA members include the six big Hollywood studios:
- Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group (The Walt Disney Company);
- Sony Pictures Entertainment (Sony);
- Paramount Pictures (Viacom);
- 20th Century Fox (News Corporation);
- Universal Studios (NBCUniversal)
- Warner Bros. (Time Warner).
MGM was an MPAA member until 2005, shortly after Sony Pictures Entertainment's failed attempt to buy that studio. Other, smaller studios and distribution companies that are not members of the MPAA avail themselves of the association's rating and title registration services.
In the early 1980s, the Association opposed the videocassette recorder (VCR) on copyright grounds. In a 1982 congressional hearing, Valenti decried the "savagery and the ravages of this machine" and compared its effect on the film industry and the American public to the Boston strangler.
The MPAA has promoted a variety of publicity campaigns designed to increase public awareness about piracy, including "You Wouldn't Steal a Car", a 2004 advertisement appearing before program content on many DVDs.
The MPAA has instituted legal actions against a number of peer-to-peer file-sharing sites (or BitTorrent trackers) used to upload and download copyrighted material like movies. Widely publicised examples include Razorback2 and The Pirate Bay.
In February 2006, the MPAA released the following statement:
|“||"Today’s lawsuits are part of MPAA’s international campaign against online piracy which has experienced some significant victories as of late. Last week the server facilitating one of the largest Torrent sites in the Netherlands, Dikkedonder, was shut down and on Monday, Belgian and Swiss authorities shut down Razorback2 -- the number one eDonkey server in the world which facilitated the illegal file swapping by approximately 1.3 million simultaneous users. The MPAA’s strategy focuses on all levels of Internet piracy to cut off the major suppliers of illegal files and at the same time curtail facilitation of illegal file swapping by peer-to-peer networks. Approximately 75 Torrent and eDonkey sites have been shut down in the last year as a result of these efforts."||”|
The Pirate Bay
Responding to allegations of copyright violations, Swedish police raided The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent tracker based in Sweden, on May 31, 2006. Some 65 police officers participated in the raid, shutting down the site and confiscating its servers, as well as all other servers hosted by Pirate Bay's ISP, PRQ Inet. Three people—Gottfrid Svartholm, Mikael Viborg, and Fredrik Neij—were held by the police for questioning. Three days later, Pirate Bay was fully functional again.
The raid became controversial in Sweden when the Swedish public broadcast network, Sveriges Television, cited unnamed sources claiming that the raid was prompted by political pressure from the United States. The Swedish government allegedly was threatened with WTO trade sanctions unless action was taken against Pirate Bay.
The Swedish government denied these allegations. However, a letter titled "Re: The Pirate Bay" from the MPAA to Swedish State Secretary Dan Eliasson, dated two months before the raid, hinted at trade reprisals. The letter stated, "it is certainly not in Sweden's best interests to earn a reputation as a place where utter lawlessness is tolerated." The letter went on to urge Eliasson to "exercise your influence to urge law enforcement officers in Sweden to take much needed action against The Pirate Bay."
In an MPAA press release, which has since been taken down, dated May 31, 2006, entitled "Swedish Authorities Sink Pirate Bay," Glickman states:
|“||The actions today taken in Sweden serve as a reminder to pirates all over the world that there are no safe harbors for Internet copyright thieves.||”|
In both the 2007 documentary Good Copy Bad Copy and the film Steal This Film II, Glickman spoke about the 2006 raid on The Pirate Bay and conceded that piracy will never be stopped. He emphasized, however, that the MPAA will try to make it as difficult and tedious as possible.
Controversies and criticisms
On January 22, 2008, the MPAA admitted publishing incorrect figures in a study in which it claimed 44% of film industry revenue losses in America due to piracy were occurring at colleges. The study had been produced by the MPAA to put pressure on universities to crack down on illegal file-sharing and to lobby for legislation before the House of Representatives that would force them to do so. The MPAA's revised figure reduced the claimed loss of revenue to 15%.
Fight against online piracy
The rise of the Internet has further emphasized the MPAA’s role in controlling content, notwithstanding that some users may access content they otherwise could not, such as NC-17 movies not shown in theaters. Although the MPAA has won several victories, like with Razorback2 and through a series of successful lawsuits against public torrent websites, online piracy is still growing steadily with more and more participants.
Arguably, the effect MPAA raids have had on overall online pirating traffic is limited. For example, the day Razorback2 (a major server on the Edonkey2000 network) was shut down, Edonkey2000 network traffic remained constant. The MPAA, however, claims to have had a very successful history shutting down networks of pirated material and torrent sites and alleges that during 2006, for example, 75 were shut down.
Allegations of copyright infringement by the MPAA
In 2007, English software developer Patrick Robin alleged that the MPAA illegally used his blogging platform, Forest Blog, which is distributed without cost under a linkware license, whereby users must link back to his site. To remove these links, one must secure a license, but Patrick Robin claimed the MPAA removed them without purchasing a license. The MPAA responded that it was only testing the blogging platform and that the blog was "never advertised to the public in any way."
On November 23, 2007, Matthew Garret notified the MPAA that it was in violation of the GNU General Public License (GPL) for distributing a software toolkit, based on the Xubuntu operating system and designed to help universities detect instances of potentially illegal file-sharing on school networks. Garret alleged that the MPAA violated the GPL by distributing a derived work without making source code available. On December 1, 2007, Garrett notified the Internet service provider for the MPAA that, in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, he was requesting them to disable the offending distribution web site. The MPAA subsequently changed its site so the toolkit was no longer offered for distribution.
Because MPAA members are the motion picture industry's most powerful studios, in turn owned by some of the world's largest media corporations, critics of the association often raise allegations of monopoly. They also cite the MPAA's support for closed standards that hinder competition. Other critics, like filmmaker Kirby Dick, have suggested that films released by major studios (members of the MPAA) are given more deference in terms of ratings than films released by independents.
In Other Media
This Film Is Not Yet Rated is an independent documentary film about the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system and its effect on American culture, directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Eddie Schmidt. The film discusses disparities the filmmaker sees in ratings and feedback: between Hollywood and independent films, between homosexual and heterosexual sexual situations, between male and female sexual depictions, and between violence and sexual content.
- "The Production Code of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc.—1930–1934". enotes.com. http://www.enotes.com/1930-arts-american-decades-ps. Retrieved 2009-05-21
- The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Jan 5, 1922
- The New York Times, May 12, 1925
- NYT, October 29, 1925
- The American Film Industry, by Tino Balio, p.259, University of Wisconsin Press, 1985, ISBN-10: 0299098745
- Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. Hutchinson. http://encyclopedia.farlex.com/Motion+Picture+Producers+and+Distributors+of+America. Retrieved 2009-05-21
- Chris Dodd's leading role. Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/01/AR2011030106474.html. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
- "FAQ," MPAA webpage
- Hearings before the Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice of the Committee of the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-seventh Congress, Second Session on H.R. 4783, H.R. 4794 H.R. 4808, H.R. 5250, H.R. 5488, and H.R. 5705, Serial No 97, Part I, Home Recording of Copyrighted Works, April 12, 1982. US Government Printing Office. "We are going to bleed and bleed and hemorrhage, unless this Congress at least protects one industry that is able to retrieve a surplus balance of trade and whose total future depends on its protection from the savagery and the ravages of this machine." Later in the testimony, he stated, "I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." 
- "Launch of Anti-Piracy Movie Trailer," Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) website
- MPAA press release, February 21, 1006
- Mikael Viborg's personal blog entry, dated June 1, 2006
- "USA-hot bakom fildelningsrazzia," June 20, 2006, Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish)
- MPAA press release, May 31, 2006
- Steal This Film II promotional website
- "Good Copy Bad Copy" website
- "MPAA admits mistake on downloading study". arstechnica.com. 2008-01-23. Archived from the original on 2008-01-24. http://web.archive.org/web/20080124150846/http://www.newsweek.com/id/98009. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- "2008 shaping up to be "Year of Filters" at colleges, ISPs". arstechnica.com. 2008-01-22. http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080115-filtering-could-come-to-isps-colleges-in-2008.html. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
- "Movie piracy more popular than ever". Computing.co.uk. 2007-01-29. http://www.computing.co.uk/vnunet/news/2173629/movie-pirating-popular-ever. Retrieved 2007-07-26.
- "Studios Move to Thwart Illegal File Sharing on Major Pirate Networks: MPAA Companies Take Action Against Torrent, eDonkey and Newsgroup Sites Used by Millions" (PDF). MPAA press release. 2006-02-23. http://www.MPAA.org/press_releases/2006_02_23.pdf.
- Paul, Ryan (2007-12-04). "MPAA’s University Toolkit hit with DMCA takedown notice after GPL violation". ars technica. arstechnica, LLC. http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2007/12/mpaas-university-toolkit-hit-with-dmca-takedown-notice-after-gpl-violation.ars. Retrieved 2007-12-07.
- Kirby Dick. (2006-01-25). This Film Is Not Yet Rated. [Film].