Entertainment Coalition Creative America Ramping Up Efforts to Battle Piracy (Video)

Mike Nugent

The group -- which consists of the major studios, networks, labor unions and others -- is launching a grass-roots campaign this week that includes working for passage of the Protect IP Act.

More than 60,000 people -- many of them entertainment industry professionals -- have sent messages to their Congressman in the past week to support passage of the Protect IP Act, which is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

The outpouring of support for the bill to stop foreign-based websites that illegally distribute copyrighted content such as American movies and TV shows is part of a grass-roots campaign being launched this week by Creative America, a coalition formed by the major studios, networks, labor unions and others to battle piracy of intellectual property.

“Since Creative America was launched, it has produced a growing community of people deeply concerned about the effects that content theft is having on American jobs and creativity,“ said Mike Nugent, executive director of Creative America. “Once people understand the scope and enormity of this problem, they want to take action.”

Not everyone supports Creative America or the Protect IP Act, including big technology companies like Google, Yahoo and TiVo, but they do agree there is a problem that needs solving.

How big a problem? According to Creative America, these foreign websites generate about 146 million visits per day and 53 billion visits per year involving illegal distribution of more than 500,000 movies each day worldwide.

Nugent announced that in addition to the original members of the group, which was formed in July -- including AFTRA, CBS, DGA, IATSE, SAG, Fox, Viacom, Disney and Warner Bros. -- it has now added the AFL-CIO, the Association of Talent Agents, the Copyright Alliance, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group Inc., FilmL.A., the National Association of Theatre Owners, the Producers Guild of America and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

The group also has launched a redesigned website at www.creativeamerica.org to provide info and a way to lobby Congress for the Protect IP Act and other legislation.

More importantly, beginning Tuesday, many of the members will send representatives to studio commissaries, TV and movie sets. For instance, AFTRA spokesman Christopher de Haan said representatives will “be going to show sets, broadcast stations and other places, handing out information and having conversations.” They will also be giving away branded materials like pens, T-shirts and one-sheets supporting the effort.

AFTRA has already sent communications to their members and staff and soon will be posting videos supporting the effort.

SAG has also posted a video on YouTube that features actor Clark Gregg talking about the campaign.

There is no cost to sign up, but Creative America hopes these people will become their ambassadors in the battle against piracy at home and abroad.

“This is an intensive campaign to bring our message to the entertainment community, its workers, vendors and others,” Nugent said. “It will be grass-roots organizing in the old-fashioned way as well as online. We’re approaching this as a political campaign, a kind of get-out-the-vote campaign, to make our voices heard in Washington.”

However, Nugent balks at being called a political organization and denies that they are a lobbying group. He says it just makes a button available on its website so people can reach out to Congress, and their member companies all lobby, but it does not.

Nugent said the group has hired two kinds of outside consultants -- one that specializes in causes and mobilizing people for social action and the other who are experts in how to use social media to spread the message, as he puts it, “so it can grow virally through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and all the engines of social media.”

Since the effort was launched, the group, working with the Motion Picture Association of America and others, has worked to shut down websites that illegally distributed copyrighted content. What they have not been able to do is stop content that comes from web servers based in China, Europe or elsewhere outside the reach of American law. That is the point of Protect IP legislation.

Once a site is identified, the U.S. Justice Department or others, would go to a judge to seek a court order labeling it as an illegal site. That court order can then be used it to force payment processors like PayPal and Visa to stop processing their credit cards and payments.

The court order would also be used to go to advertising companies that serve ads online and stop them from advertising those sites or funneling money to them from ads.

Then in the most controversial aspect of the effort, the bill would allow the copyright holders to go to companies like Time Warner and Comcast that supply Internet service to consumers and demand they block access to those illegal sites.

"It’s a bad thing because generally the security experts do not want anyone to tap into your Internet connection to block or manipulate your access to any site that you want to go to,” said Markham Erickson, a Washington lawyer who is executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, which lists among its members Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Expedia, Bloomberg, TiVo, Facebook, HSN and even Sony Electronics -- although Sony Pictures Entertainment is a member of the Creative America coalition supporting the opposing viewpoint.

 “We’re not opposed to legislation in addressing the problem,” Erickson said. “But we have serious concerns about the bill that has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now to be considered by the full Senate.”

Erickson said the existing Digital Millennium Copyright Act already covers the same territory and can take care most instances of illegal material being distributed.

Nugent said that is true, but that the DMCA acts after the fact and takes a long time to use to get satisfaction. The new bill would be more of preventive measure.

At present the Protect IP act is stalled because of opposition from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has said that while he shares the goals of the proposed act, “I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective.”

Creative America said a similar bill will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in a matter of days.

Nugent insisted that there is no first amendment issue and that it would not stall innovation.

“There is no privacy right that allows you access to an illegal website,” he said. “We won’t know what any individual is doing. We’re not going to view their habits. We won't know if they go to a certain site. All were doing is blocking the identifying information from this other site.”

Erickson said that the technology problems this bill would create could be dealt with if the backers had worked with Internet engineers and companies. He said the Internet service providers don’t believe they should be forced into the role of policeman on the web, which may not even be possible with new security software being rolled out to deal with potential hacking.

Nugent insisted that they are not making these private companies their police force.

“They are just being asked to honor a court order to stop supporting the distribution of stolen content,” Nugent said. “They already do it with porn. They stop malicious spam. They would block someone extorting money. They do it when it suits their network interests, so they should be able to do it here as well.”