The End of Chinese Cultural Exceptionalism? Part 1 of 3: The Ancient History of the DVD

Dan Harris at China Law Blog invited me to write a post about the launch of the Chinese translation of Media Piracy in Emerging Economies.  There is no China chapter in the report, but of course there are numerous China connections and parallels.  Here’s an attempt to explore those connections, in three parts.  Part 1 sets up the pricing argument that will be familiar to MPEE aficionados.

Part 2: What Everyone Wants, gets into film exhibition and market protection.

Part 3: Forget it, Jack, it’s Chinatown, discusses the politics and future of Hollywood in China.


Our headline finding is pretty simple: developing-world piracy is driven by high media prices, low incomes, and cheap digital technologies—and has not been significantly impacted by scaled-up enforcement.  This is the sort of statement that’s obvious in most developing countries but that is still off limits in most international IP policy conversations, which are driven by the big copyright trade associations—the MPAA, BSA, IFPI, and so on.  As a result, we have a policy debate focused single-mindedly on strengthening enforcement.  But in our view, if you’re really concerned about piracy, you need to ask which of those other things will change: prices, incomes, or cheap tech?  “Income” is a fine long-term answer in some countries but the realistic short-term answer—the one that rights holders can actually do something about—is “prices.”  Let’s take the example of DVD piracy. Continue reading “The End of Chinese Cultural Exceptionalism? Part 1 of 3: The Ancient History of the DVD”

The MPAA in Latin America

Frederic Martel’s Mainstream (2010) is a very rich account of Hollywood’s (and America’s) global cultural dominance, based on a huge quantity of original research and reporting.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t been translated into English (from French–it should be!).

Among many other things, Martel provides interesting detail on the global lobbying and enforcement practices of Hollywood–a subject we treat in our Media Piracy report.  You get a clear sense from Martel just how good these guys have been at their jobs, mixing product and politics, working the domestic and international angles simultaneously, and always cultivating the powerful.  Chris Dodd’s public threats, post SOPA, reflect how unusual it is for them to lose.  Here’s Martel on the history of MPAA lobbying in Brazil and Mexico, cobbled together from pp 28-32. Translation mine. MPA, btw, is what the MPAA calls itself outside the US.


In Brazil, the MPA’s top guy is Steve Solot. From Rio de Janeiro, he coordinates the studios’ business across Latin America. Solot explains: “For the MPAA, South America doesn’t count in terms of box-office, but it’s more and more important in terms of influence and number of tickets sold. American films take over 80% of Brazilian box office receipts. And even for the remaining 20%, you have to remember that many Brazilian films are co-produced with the Americans. Overall, it’s over 85%.” …

Continue reading “The MPAA in Latin America”


As last week’s arrest of Megaupload owner Kim Dotcom emphasized, the main character in the SOPA/PIPA debate is the foreign thief.  He’s everywhere—robbing Americans of their creativity, jobs, and money.  Worse, he’s enjoying himself.  As the Chamber of Commerce put it:  “The criminals behind these sites are laughing all the way to the bank, stealing the best of American creativity and innovation at the expense of our jobs and consumers.”

[Strictly speaking, the top five pirated films of the year were Fast Five, The Hangover II, Thor, Source Code, and I am Number Four.  It’s not a ‘best of’ list, exactly, but that’s a different story.] Continue reading “Meganomics”

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”

Organized Crime: Businessweek edition

(updated, April 9)

Sigh. I can see that engaging in this debate about organized crime and piracy means having to shoot down the same stuff  over and over.  You can look here if you want a detailed version of our take on organized crime and here for a more tongue-in-cheek version.  But to the business at hand: I was dismayed to read the recitation of industry talking points on the subject in this recent Businessweek story by Mike White.  This irks me in part because White interviewed me and I walked him through all the problems with the inflated claims.  Yet, here they are again.  That’s his prerogative, I suppose.  Here’s mine. Continue reading “Organized Crime: Businessweek edition”