The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood)

In 2009, Governor Rick Perry announced Texas’ expanded state subsidies for film production at Robert Rodriguez’ Austin studio. In 2010, the Texas film board revoked a $1.75 million subsidy for Rodriguez’ Machete — a $10 million revenge film that took in $26 million at the box office (US). The problem?  Somehow, Machete’s portrayal of an “unholy trinity of rotten, greedy Americans,” including a racist Texas senator in league with the drug mafia, failed to portray Texas in a favorable light. Predictably, Rodriguez said that without the subsidy, he would have made the film somewhere else.

What’s this anachronistic censorship dispute actually about ?  It’s probably best to think of it as friction in a larger process of industry capture of state governments. The real question is: how does Machete rate a $1.75 million subsidy in the first place?

That’s the question I take up in a new piece at the Huffington Post.  Here’s the story in one chart: Continue reading “The War Between the States (to Subsidize Hollywood)”

Comment on European Audiovisual Policy

I’ve turned The European Strategy Trilogy into something a little more refined and submitted it to the European Commission’s public consultation on ‘Assessing State aid for films and other audiovisual works.’ 

Download it here.  Here’s the most radical suggestion:

Modernize how public funding agencies conceive their mission, with an emphasis on much wider and cheaper distribution of EU movies. We propose:

  • Making public funding contingent on creative commons commercial use licensing of the work after an initial period of commercial release (provisionally, five years). The CC license would allow works to circulate at no cost, without requiring permission from the rightsholder.

The European Strategy Trilogy

Now gathered in one place for the first time, The European Strategy Trilogy is finally available in hi-definition HTML.

Why is the pan-European cinema, in effect, the American cinema?

Why do European leaders act as if piracy is a problem when almost nobody pirates European movies?

Why can’t the European Commission adopt policies to bring more French movies about the self-destructive alter-egos of French directors to wider audiences?

How many Yuanbucks will the UK Provisional Authority pay the WB-USA to keep it from moving production of the 2021 Harry Potter reboot to the Czech Hegemonic Zone?

Find the answers to these questions and more in:

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part One)

In which we discuss the long list of current EU copyright enforcement initiatives and ask: does this make sense for Europe?

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part Deux)

In which we deploy evidence, including World Bank data and a list of the top 100 pirated movies, to argue that it does not make sense!  And that the French position (that of our own peuple) makes the least sense of all!

The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part Three)

In which we discuss the dilemmas facing EU audiovisual policy and make some modest proposals to free European cinema from its obscurity and do away with the public financing of Hollywood blockbusters.

The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part 3)

When we last left the European Commission, it was continuing its pursuit of  SMUS (Send Money to the US) based IP policies.  We raised some questions about the wisdom of this strategy.  But there is also a different EC conversation underway about revision of the rules governing public film subsidies.  And this one is more genuinely vexed and interesting.

As I noted in the Send Money Pt.2 post a couple weeks ago, Europe produces a lot of movies–over 1100 in 2009–but very few that reach audiences beyond the national markets in which they are produced.  Because movies carry a lot of the burden of representing culture in Europe, this failure generates a lot of anxiety.  So what to do? Continue reading “The European Strategy: The Curse of Harry Potter (Part 3)”

Sidenote on Saadi

This is a bit off the usual topic, but a few months ago I mentioned the strange story of Saadi el-Qaddafi, son of Muamar, who had invested $100 million of the family money in Natural Selection, a Hollywood production company responsible for a few films in 2009-2010.  The point of the post was to compare the murky MPAA claims of connections between terrorist activity and film piracy with this rather clear and public connection between terrorism and film financing.

In that post, I referenced BBC stories on Saadi’s role in Benghazi, including reporting that he had ordered soldiers to fire on civilians.  At least one more recent report also had him leading government forces in Tripoli.

Then there’s the NYT account from today:

On the day the uprising broke out in Benghazi, Saadi was touring the city as an emissary from his father to its alienated citizens. A person who was with him that day said he kept trying in vain to mollify residents with assurances of development or other help from his father. Later, when a Libyan woman was arrested in Tripoli for breaking into a hotel to tell foreign reporters about her rape by Qaddafi militiamen, Saadi interceded — over the objections of many in his father’s government — to help her tell her story to CNN….

After Tripoli fell and the family went into hiding, an associate said, Saadi continued to hope that he could broker a peace agreement or unity government to forestall more bloodshed.

Has Saadi been cleared of the Benghazi charges?  There are two rather different accounts of Saadi’s actions in circulation.  One of them must be wrong.

The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part Deux)

Most of the time, the international politics of intellectual property law are pretty easy to follow: countries that are large exporters of intellectual property usually favor stronger international IP agreements that help exploit international markets.  Countries that are large importers of IP, in contrast, generally favor lower levels of IP protection that minimize the outflow of royalties, licensing fees, and other payments for foreign-owned products and technologies–whether computers, drugs, movies, or books.  Whatever other rhetorics are in play, from the rights of authors to the right to development, political positions usually line up with those underlying incentives.

The turn toward the use of trade agreements to set IP obligations–from the early bilateral agreements of the 1980s to the WTO’s TRIPS agreement in the early 1990s–more or less formalized this instrumental approach to IP law.  Trade agreements, at the end of the day, are about economic deals–not morality or even fairness.  For anyone clinging to a moral interpretation of these arrangements, it’s worth revisiting at the US and EU positions in the South African AIDS drug controversy from the late 1990s or more recent opposition to the proposed WIPO treaty for the visually impaired.

I raise this not to attack trade agreements, but to ask some similarly instrumental questions about the European Commission’s position on IP rights and enforcement.  Over the past two decades, the EC has been a very active proponent of higher IP standards and stronger enforcement, from the ACTA agreement, to the upcoming revision to the Enforcement Directive, to the imminent extension of copyright on recordings (see Part Un).  Let’s ask the obvious question: why? Continue reading “The European Strategy: Send Money to the US (Part Deux)”

Sunset Boulevard Terrorists

We’ve criticized the hyping of organized crime links in the piracy debate, for reasons that have mostly to do with the economics of piracy: we haven’t seen any evidence that there’s much money in it anymore.  Commercial pirates face massive and growing competition from free, mostly non-commercial internet distribution, and this has dramatically reduced profit margins on the kind of capitally-intensive, smuggling-based trade in optical disks that characterized the late 1990s and early 2000s.  The same also applies to now-routine claims that piracy is a source of funding for terrorist groups–a subject on which the evidentiary record is thin and mostly very old, dating back to the 1980s or 1990s when piracy was more lucrative. The key document here is the MPAA-funded RAND report, Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism, which offers “three… documented cases [that provide] clear evidence that terrorist groups have used the proceeds of film piracy to finance their activities.”  We are very unimpressed with these cases, but the claim clearly has political utility and, in the piracy debate, that has always been more than enough.

But if we’re going to conduct a debate based on generalizations from sketchy anecdotes, surely the much more recent evidence of Hollywood’s connections to terrorism should be taken into account. Continue reading “Sunset Boulevard Terrorists”