Shedding controversy, Glickman gets down to work fighting piracy

Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), said yesterday that six major movie studios have agreed to start a nonprofit research and development company, Motion Picture Laboratories Inc., which will develop technology to stay a step ahead of criminals who steal and copy new movies then sell them on DVD on the streets of the world’s major cities for a cool profit.

Charged with representing Hollywood’s interests in Washington, Glickman has made his boldest move in the movie studios’ fight against copyright theft, which costs the industry $3.5 billion each year, by advancing the joint business venture.

The MPAA also relies on old-fashioned detective work to catch Internet-savvy criminals. The trade association hires hundreds of investigators to gather evidence against pirating kingpins, and the investigators share the information with law-enforcement officials, who make the busts, around the world.

Glickman accompanied the New York Police Department this month on a raid in midtown Manhattan and came back with a couple of souvenirs — pirated copies of “Four Brothers” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” His son was the producer of the latter, which means piracy has a direct impact on the Glickman family fortunes.

The substantive part of Glickman’s new job was long overshadowed by the political intrigue surrounding his appointment one year ago. The movie studios angered conservatives by tapping the Democratic former congressman and secretary of agriculture.

Glickman made matters worse, a media-industry lobbyist opined, by installing midlevel Republicans in midlevel positions, which made it appear as if he were trying to paper over the issue raised by conservatives.  

To disarm his critics and curry favor with lawmakers, Glickman has done as lobbyists do: He’s doled out campaign cash to Republican allies. He has also hired key GOP staffers, including John Feehery, Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) former spokesman. Initially hired as a communications strategist, Feehery is now charged with lobbying, too.

Finally, Glickman has wielded perhaps the most effective perk in town: inviting lawmakers to screenings at the MPAA’s movie theater (Glickman said he wanted to buy a popcorn machine to add to the ambience).

Last week, the House Republican whips watched “The Great Raid” and refugees from Hurricane Katrina who are being sheltered at the D.C. Armory were invited for dinner and a screening of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The MPAA hosted an evening for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) earlier this year where as many Republicans as Democrats showed up. During the screening of “Stealth,” the House called a vote. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) was enjoying the movie so much that other lawmakers had to plead with him to go vote.

“[Glickman] spent a lot of time in his first year” addressing political concerns, an entertainment lobbyist said. “Most people think that issue has been addressed in lots of different ways. The point was made, and Dan responded appropriately.”

“Any of the pushback has largely dissipated. It’s so counterproductive and produces no results for anyone,” Glickman said as he relaxed in his spacious I Street office.

Glickman, with Feehery’s help, also has raised money in Los Angeles for top Republicans, including Hastert, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Hollywood’s congressman. He is hosting a fundraiser this week for Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

His job has perks of its own, including going to the Academy Awards and hobnobbing with Hollywood stars. While vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard this summer, Glickman lunched with Larry David, the creator of “Seinfeld” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” at his island compound.

Besides facing political and legislative challenges, Glickman had to restructure the MPAA after replacing Jack Valenti, the former Texas ad man-turned-presidential adviser who lobbied for the studios for 38 years. Entertainment-industry sources credit Glickman with revamping the organization, which had become so identified with Valenti, and give him high marks for persuading movie studios — intense competitors that are parts of massive media conglomerates with diverging interests — to work together.

“I think that the companies really know Dan has been reaching out to them and helping them establish their agenda,” a top entertainment lobbyist said. “For the MPAA to be successful, it has to be a coalition of companies moving forward with a common agenda. His personality is uniquely good at that.”

While the political intrigue surrounding Glickman’s appointment is more interesting to political observers, the war on piracy is more important to his employers and to the overall health of the second largest industry in the United States. His record in this area is mixed, as he has made progress but also experienced some setbacks.

Glickman scored his most important victory in the courts, not Congress. The MPAA played an indirect role in winning a Supreme Court ruling, MGM v. Grokster, that holds companies, in addition to users, liable for developing technology that lets people download movies and music free.

“He was beneficiary of the Grokster decision,” the entertainment lobbyist said. “That probably meant there was no need for a strong legislative push. … If Grokster had gone other way, we’d have a much better read on what [Glickman] was able to accomplish.”

The MPAA has filed six rounds of lawsuits against individuals it accuses of illegally copying movies, and earlier this year President Bush signed the Federal Entertainment and Copyright Act, which makes it easier for the government to prosecute and increases penalties for people who copy a movie before its release date.

Glickman also worked with lawmakers to pass CAFTA, the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

Despite the Grokster victory, the studios’ legislative agenda is incomplete. Glickman wants Congress to pass a “broadcast flag” bill that would overturn an appellate-court ruling that would stop distributors — a television network, for example — from including software in digital television that would determine which programs could be shared. The bill would give movie and television studios greater control over how their content is copied. Opponents argue that it would create technical problems for consumers and give too much power to the industry.

A House Judiciary subcommittee spokesman said that legislation to bring copyright laws up to speed with the demand for legally downloadable music will not pass this year and that it is unlikely that Congress will rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996 before the year’s end.

Without a major legislative battle, Glickman has focused on legal battles, law enforcement and public relations. 

“Part of the trick to successfully running a trade association is to make friends when there is no crisis,” the top entertainment lobbyist said. “There’s a lot to do when you run these organizations that have nothing to do with Congress.”

On the public-relations front, Glickman wants to promote the value of film in the same way that the Department of Agriculture advertises food groups, such as pork (“the other white meat”) or milk (“got milk?”).

“Movies are the face of America around the world. It’s one of the few places Americans can go that unites us on a cultural, social and political level,” he said. “We need to rethink how powerful this medium is.”

Luckily, the movies are an easy sell. “We’re in the business of selling things people like,” Glickman said.