Welp (as the kids say), it looks like Katherine Trendacosta of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) found an old PowerPoint deck from 2012 and used it to write a new post ominously titled Hollywood’s Insistence on New Draconian Copyright Rules Is Not About Protecting Artists.
Typical of the EFF playbook, Trendacosta devotes an entire post maligning the motion picture industry rather than address the “rule” (the SMART Act), which she does not even mention until the final paragraph. At that point, the reader is meant to take her word for it that the proposed legislation is bad because—believe it or not—there is too much diversity and choice in the streaming market, and because film producers want to make money.
Ms. Trendacosta calls streaming a “hellscape” where consumers cannot find what they want and/or where shows and films are canceled or moved to different platforms. She writes, “It’s disingenuous for Hollywood’s lobbyists to claim that they need harsher copyright laws to protect artists when it’s the studios that are busy disappearing the creations of these artists.”
“Hellscape” is a bit dramatic as critiques go, given that market research indicates that 74% of consumers report being satisfied with streaming and that those numbers are currently trending upward. Of course, the anti-copyright playbook Trendacosta is using tells her to imply that when producers make market decisions to stop producing a given work, or to move a work from one channel to another, this is “disappearing” material that should be available in perpetuity. In fact, she inscrutably cites the “disappearance” of a film which is temporarily being made available in a new 4K cinema format and will return to streaming in a matter of months. Hellish, no?
Perhaps Trendacosta is unaware that we are enjoying a new golden age of filmed entertainment available on—or produced especially for—the private screen market. Streaming models have fostered a diverse range of projects that would never have been made, let alone been sustainable, in the narrower distribution paradigms pre-Netflix. But a reality of all this bounty is that more experimentation and risk-taking means that a higher volume of material will be canceled or redistributed more frequently as audiences respond to what gets made. That’s just the business of making entertainment media, and the EFF always acts as if the business is what makes efforts to mitigate piracy somehow dishonest or sinister.
Here, Trendacosta digs a little deeper into the big box of EFF’s toys and argues that ordinary tensions that arise among studios and talent—including strikes and financial disagreements—are evidence that the parties seeking remedies to piracy “don’t care about artists.” True to form, the folks at EFF pretend to care about artists by erecting a false dichotomy between the creators who work on projects and Hollywood, where “Hollywood” is a generic term to describe a monolith that does not exist.
It’s a very strange argument because the artists to which Trendacosta refers in those strikes, etc., want money, too. In fact, money is often exactly why they have disagreements with certain producers or studios. Yet, Trendacosta elides the fact that piracy hurts everyone in the ecosystem, regardless of their internal disputes and negotiations with one another. That’s why unions like DGA, WGA, and IATSE are members of the Copyright Alliance and work closely with the studios to fight piracy. It is categorically false to suggest that large studios are the only parties with an interest in this issue. As independent filmmakers and other artists have explained repeatedly, it’s the smaller, independent projects that are most vulnerable to the negative effects of piracy.
And let’s be honest. EFF opposes all copyright enforcement measures in the same style as this post—no substance, just uninformed, ad hominem attacks—and it behaves no differently when smaller groups or indie artists seek copyright remedies in Congress.
So, what is the supposedly “harsh” new piracy remedy that EFF is opposing this time?
The Strengthening Measures to Advance Rights Technologies (SMART) Act is a legislative response to the fact that for more than 25 years, Big Tech has refused to fulfil its side of the bargain struck with the adoption of Section 512 of the DMCA. Simply put, Section 512(i) requires online service providers to collaborate with copyright owners to develop standard technical measures (STM) to identify and expeditiously remove infringing content from internet platforms.
But not only did the development of STM never quite happen, the Googles and Facebooks of the world, who came after the OSPs that negotiated the DMCA, benefitted from mass infringement on their platforms because the DMCA shielded them from liability.
SMART seeks to address more than two decades of stonewalling by adding a new Section 514 to the DMCA that would create new remedies to confront Big Tech’s refusal to adopt appropriate and affordable technical measures to reduce online piracy. At the same time, its proposals would protect smaller and less well-resourced service providers by calling for a variety of tailored and practical technical measures to be developed under a multi-stakeholder process overseen by the Librarian of Congress.
This is what the EFF is calling “draconian”—a proposal to restore the intent of the DMCA as it was enacted in 1998. SMART is the first substantive response to Big Tech’s two big lies: 1) We can’t do it; and 2) We shouldn’t do it because it will chill speech. Those arguments have worn paper thin in recent years given the role these same companies have played in fostering the most toxic, Republic-shaking nonsense ever to be “freely spoken.” But credit where it’s due. At least Ms. Trendacosta didn’t say SOPA.