Glickman isn't neutral on net neutrality

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Don't regulate cyberspace.

MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman used his annual ShoWest address to issue that warning to Washington as the former Beltway pol formally came out in opposition to so-called net neutrality legislation.

"Government regulation of the Internet would impede our ability to respond to consumers in innovative ways," Glickman said Tuesday. "And it would impair the ability of broadband providers to address the serious and rampant piracy problems occurring over the networks today."

That latter issue always is a big talking point at ShoWest. Distributors and exhibitors alike view the unauthorized video camera recording of films — which then show up on the Internet as well as on pirated DVDs — as picking their pockets big time.

But Glickman's joining the policy debate about proposed regulation of the Internet also reflects growing concern by MPAA member studios that any such law could prevent them from effectively tapping the Internet as an ancillary distribution channel and profit center.

Opponents suggest that Net neutrality is a deceiving catchphrase because it would involve overt government action to prevent content companies from striking exclusive partnerships with Internet providers. Net neutrality proponents including the giant cybersearch company Google are motivated by their own business agendas.

"This is a high-stakes debate," Glickman told the convention crowd. "Do we take a stand for intellectual property rights or cast them aside in the digital environment? Are we permitted to respond to consumers, innovate on their behalf and compete with the world, or are we told by our government to stand down? Today, MPAA and all of our studios are standing up in opposition to broad-based government regulation of the Internet."

John Fithian, chief of the National Association of Theatre Owners, didn't address Net neutrality but joined Glickman in again stressing industry anti-piracy initiatives.

"NATO has worked with the MPAA to pass laws in Congress and in over 40 states that outlaw the use of recording devices in movie theaters," Fithian said. "Our Canadian colleagues were recently successful in a similar effort in Canada, (and) many other countries have enacted or are considering new laws. These laws can only be effective if theater managers and our patrons know about them."

Once a piracy threat primarily found in New York and Los Angeles, unauthorized camcording quickly spread elsewhere, including north of the border, the industry leaders said.

"Canada became worse, and that's why we pushed for an anti-camcording law," Glickman noted in a postspeech news briefing at the Paris hotel here.

Digital cinema has been another recent evergreen issue at ShoWest, and this year's Fithian's update for the assembled exhibitors was at once encouraging and cautionary.

"Looking to future growth of the technology, I believe that the pact of digital cinema installations will increase even more toward the end of this year," the NATO chief said. "At least two significant deals — from Digital Cinema Implementation Partners and the Cinema Buying Group — will likely be achieved this year."

DCI Partners serves mostly the larger, big-city chains, while CBC targets smaller markets, and Fithian said he hopes their imminent pacts will expand the current digital footprint significantly. But he also voiced concern that the smallest markets could get left out of the digital revolution.

"The big question is (whether) the transition covers all of the cinemas or if small-town America will be left behind," Fithian told reporters.

Joking that he's become known as a relentlessly "glass-half-full kind of guy," Fithian also expressed enthusiasm for the prospective benefits of 3-D exhibition, another burgeoning digital trend. And he joined the chorus of optimistic voices as ShoWest this year stressing the recession-resistant nature of the movie business.

"In the past four decades, there have been seven recession years in this country, and boxoffice climbed strongly in five of those years," Fithian said.

As for the recent competition between theater owners and DVD marketers, the NATO topper had more good news: The theatrical window actually grew this year, reversing a recent trend. The average theatrical window grew to four months and 16 days in 2007, five days more than in 2006.

"Theatrical release remains the locomotive that drives the movie train," Fithian said. "The big screen will always be the best way to experience movies. You can check out Michaelangelo's artistry on the Internet, but who would prefer a computer screen if you could visit the Sistine Chapel itself for 10 bucks?"

ShoWest continues through Thursday at the Bally's and Paris hotels.
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