MPAA chief: Regulating movie content is a 'slippery slope'

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The motion picture and TV industry have come under scrutiny for producing violent content since the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., last year. Following the Newtown shooting, which took the lives of 20 children, the National Rifle Association and lawmakers pointed fingers at the entertainment industry for contributing to gun violence in the U.S.

However, Dodd said the criticism isn't anything new and "sort of predictable in a way," noting that comic books were blamed for inciting violence years ago. He said the studios aim to provide people with a broad spectrum of films in various genres, and also try to educate them about the content in those films so they can better control what their children watch — both in the theaters and at home.

The Newtown shooting hit home for Dodd, he said, as he spent years in the Senate representing Connecticut. To reduce gun violence in the U.S., the former Connecticut senator made an impassioned pitch for improving access to mental health services, saying the issue touches many families.


"There's a lot of anxiety out there and not many opportunities for people to access the mental health they need, that families need," he said. "That's the space we really need [to pay] attention to."

A few months after Dodd took the helm of the MPAA, the association faced a hailstorm of criticism for pushing for the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Google, Reddit, Wikipedia and other Web companies mounted a fierce opposition campaign against the bill, which was ultimately shelved.

Dodd was also the target of criticism when he called the anti-SOPA online protests "a gimmick." During the keynote, the MPAA chief had notably shifted his tone a year after SOPA and offered an olive branch to the tech community, saying he's not "enthusiastic" about pushing for another divisive bill.

"I think we need to try and find ways in which we can achieve what ought to make sense to everyone, and stop asking people to somehow pick one side of this equation or the other," Dodd said. "We need both content and technology for the benefit of everyone."

Dodd said the MPAA is working with Google on ways to prevent copyright-infringing websites from appearing on the first page of its search results. The film lobby is also working with online ad networks and payment processors on curbing online piracy, and is launching a website "in the next few weeks" that helps people spot when they're downloading pirated content — "without any punitive implications."
 
The movie industry has faced criticism for not innovating fast enough with the pace of technology. Some tech observers say people have turned to watching pirated movies and TV shows online, in part, because the content they want is not available in digital formats, on demand.

Dodd rejected that argument and said the industry is "continuously innovating" to meet people's rising demand for digital entertainment.

"Today movies and TV shows can be viewed in theaters, on the big screen, or at home on TV screens, laptops, iPads, Kindles and smart phones. There are more than 375 unique licensed online distribution services around the world that provide high-quality, on-demand film and television shows, offering the easiest, fastest, safest, highest quality product and viewing experience possible," Dodd said.

He added that tech companies, Internet providers, pay channels and content renters like Amazon, Netflix and iTunes are among the range of companies that deliver movies.

"So the next time someone suggests the film and television industry is not innovating fast enough to satisfy consumer demand — remind them of those innovations," Dodd said.

The bulk of Dodd's keynote focused on the state of the motion picture industry and illustrating the significant roles movies play in shaping American culture and society. He said movies can be used to raise awareness about issues, other than simply entertain, and bring people together despite the divisiveness of the country. 

The movie industry had a "great" year in 2012, he said, adding that international box office receipts totaled $23.1 billion.

Dodd's keynote comes as Hollywood's biggest night, the Academy Awards, is little more than a week away. However, Dodd sought to reframe how the movie industry is viewed and highlight the work of people behind the camera, who are removed from the glitz and glamor of the red carpet.

In his keynote, Dodd said the movie industry puts "tens of thousands" of Americans to work and movie stars represent "less than one percent" of the people who produce films. Roughly 2.1 million people work in a job "that either directly or indirectly depends on movies and television," he said.

Dodd also attempted to cut through the assumption that most movies are made in Los Angeles or New York, noting that some of the films up for the "Best Picture" category at the Oscars were made in Virginia, Philadelphia and Louisiana.

"We are all guilty of viewing the film industry through the wrong end of the lens," Dodd said. "Talented actors, directors, writers and musicians are often the face of the film industry. But for every talented and recognizable face, there are literally tens of thousands of working people off screen, who help create the magic in the movie theater."

For this reason, he said, it's important to protect copyrighted entertainment content from being pirated on the Internet.

"There should be no confusion. For the more than two million Americans whose jobs depend on the motion picture and television industry 'free and open' cannot be synonymous with 'working for free,' " he said.

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