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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), originally the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), is a non-profit business and trade association based in the United States, which was formed to advance the business interests of movie studios.

The current Chairman and CEO of the MPAA is Dan Glickman. MPAA members include the "big six" major Hollywood studios, which are:

  1. The Walt Disney Company
  2. Sony Pictures
  3. Paramount Pictures Viacom—(DreamWorks owners since February 2006)
  4. 20th Century Fox (News Corporation)
  5. Universal Studios (NBC Universal)
  6. Warner Bros. (Time Warner)

The MPAA administers the voluntary film rating system. MGM was an MPAA member until 2005, shortly after Sony Pictures Entertainment's failed attempt to buy that studio; it ended in a partly Sony-funded acquisition.

Political activities

Besides assigning its film ratings, the MPAA lobbies on behalf of its members on a variety of issues including copyright and free speech. It promotes digital rights management technologies. The MPAA, along with its equivalent in the recording industry, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), has taken strong—yet largely ineffectual—steps to reduce the number of file-sharing sites online where copyrighted films are available for download. In April and May 2005, signs appeared on the homepages of LokiTorrent and EliteTorrents (two minor BitTorrent trackers), stating that they had been closed down because of encouraging the illegal distribution of copyrighted material defined as the distribution of copyrighted works without permission of the copyright holder. Another tracker, TorrentBox, has blocked access from the US "due to the US's hostility towards P2P technologies, and we feel with our current lawsuit brought by the MPAA, we can no longer ensure your security and privacy in the US". Despite claims of success, file sharing networks such as BitTorrent have grown, whereas the reputation of the MPAA and RIAA has been damaged by bad publicity through many lawsuits brought against file sharers.

Leadership

File:MpAAoldlogo.jpg
Old MPAA Logo

In 1922, the movie studio bosses hired Will H. Hays as the first president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America (MPPDAA). A former U.S. Postmaster General (and President Warren G. Harding's election campaign manager), Hays created the Production Code in 1930. It was laxly enforced until the major studios agreed—under threat of religiously-instigated state and Federal censorship—that every movie released, on or after 1 July 1934, would adhere to the Hays Office Production Code of the MPPDAA, or face a punitive pecuniary fine.

In 1934, Joseph I. Breen became president of the Production Code Administration (PCA) and served as head of the MPDPAA until 1945, when Eric Johnston assumed the PCA presidency, and it was renamed as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). In November 1947, Johnston was part of a private meeting with forty-seven movie studio executives in New York City, which resulted in the publication announcement, on 25 November 1947, of the Waldorf Statement, a two-page press release signalling the institution of the Hollywood blacklist. Eric Johnston remained MPAA president until he died in 1963; Ralph Hetzel was interim president until 1966.

From 1966 to 2004, Jack Valenti was MPAA president, virtually becoming the association's eponym because of his superannuated tenure and high public profile. Valenti retired on 1 September 2004, and Dan Glickman (a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture) now serves as the MPAA Chairman and CEO.

Business-wise, through Kori Bernards, the association's corporate communications vice-president and principal spokeswoman, the MPAA is legally battling against the BitTorrent technology, the peer-to-peer file-sharing communications protocol invented by Bram Cohen.

Controversies

Rating system

Main article: Motion Picture Association of America film rating system

Some of the MPAA's actions have been controversial. One example is the film rating system. Many believe that the intent of the various ratings has been subverted. For example, there is widespread access to R-rated movies even for those under 17, while the NC-17 rating spells commercial death for a film,[1][2] undermining its purpose.

Film critic Roger Ebert has called for an entirely new system of ratings designed to address these issues. Some people criticize film-makers for editing their works to conform to the various ratings. For example, they might excise some extreme violence or sex to avoid an NC-17, or even "spice up" a children's movie so as to move from G to PG and appeal to older children. The ratings system itself is attacked as de facto censorship by free-speech activists, and conversely as too lenient in its content standards by some conservative critics, religious leaders, lawyers, and parental review sites. Kids-In-Mind is a parental review site that does not criticize the rating system, however they do mention that the rating system is malleable and inaccurate for several reasons. The site has also shown that an R-rated movie may be similar in content to a PG-13–rated movie at times. A Harvard study suggested that in 2003, more "inappropriate" content has been allowed in PG and PG-13 rated movies than in 1992. In This Film is Not Yet Rated, Kirby Dick argues that the MPAA tends to be considered more complacent with violent content than sexual, and that there is more bias against homosexual sexual content than heterosexual.


Copyright issues

Restricting Legitimate Use

Other critics attack the MPAA for its action on copyright issues. They claim that it inhibits legitimate uses of its products through laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and that it is too draconian in pursuing copyright infringers. The MPAA replies that it is attempting only to limit the reduction in profits caused by file sharing and other types of copyright infringement although enough valid arguments exist to make its moves highly controversial. In 2006, the MPAA's moral authority on this subject was questioned. Filmmaker Kirby Dick's documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, itself an attack on the ratings system, was submitted for rating consideration. The organization then made unauthorized copies of it for certain employees of the MPAA itself.[3]

Fight Against Online Piracy

The rise of the internet has further emphasized the MPAA’s role in controlling content. Before the internet era, it was nearly impossible for films to be viewed without first going through the MPAA’s rating process, which greatly limited the amount of violent and sexual content a film could portray. However, the internet allows some users to access content they otherwise could not, such as viewing NC-17 movies that are not shown in theatres. The MPAA has responded legally by seeking to shut down piracy websites.

The MPAA has forced some well known fanfiction sites such as Fanfiction.net to cease using the MPAA Rating System to rate fanfictions on the site due to copyright infringement on the rating system. The MPAA has won several victories against online piracy such as the Razorback2 raid and a series of successful lawsuits against public torrent websites, online piracy is still growing steadily with modern studies showing more and more participants.

The MPAA was responsible for a police raid on the servers that hosted a torrent tracking website called The Pirate Bay on May 31 2006 by pressuring the Swedish government (where the servers were located) to take action. The Pirate Bay, in response, claimed that they had no basis for the seizure, and were back up and running on backups two days later. In a MPAA press release, 31st May 2006, entitled "Swedish Authorities Sink Pirate Bay", the MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman states: “The actions today taken in Sweden serve as a reminder to pirates all over the world that there are no safe harbours for Internet copyright thieves”[4] In the 2007 documentary "Good Copy Bad Copy" Glickman is interviewed in connection with the The Pirate Bay raid, conceding that piracy will never be stopped, but stating that they will try to make it as difficult and tedious as possible.[5]

The effect MPAA raids have had on overall online pirating traffic is, to date, limited — the day Razorback2 (a major server on the Edonkey2000 network) was shut down, Edonkey2000 network traffic stayed the same, showing negligible change.[6][7][8] However the MPAA has had a very successful history shutting down networks of pirated material and torrent sites, bolstering a record of approximately 75 during 2006.[9]

Sociologists would identify the MPAA’s new war on anti-piracy as an attempt to reincorporate their control of how people consume media. Although the MPAA has sued numerous websites that distribute pirated material, they have never sought financial retribution. Some argue that the MPAA has so vigorously pursued these websites as an example of their apprehension to relinquish power over media productions and their control on establishing and maintaining moral standards in media. This battle between the MPAA and cultural consumers is a typical example of excorporation and reincorporation, as defined by sociologist John Fiske. [10]

See also: Trade group efforts against file sharing

Online Piracy Figures

In the MPAA press release from the 31st of May 2006 on The Pirate Bay raid the MPAA stated that they lost $6.1 billion dollars nationwide to piracy in 2005, and that internet piracy alone had cost the studios $2.3 billion.[11] However, contrary to MPAA statements, several studies and commentators have concluded that one download hardly equals one lost sale, since many downloaders would not purchase the movie if illegal downloading were not an option.[12][13][14] This is especially so as over 20 percent, $1.4 billion, of the $6.1 billion figure represents what is essentially making a non-commercial backups, either virtually on a device or physically on another disc, which is protected under United States law. These numbers are further suspicious due to the private nature of the study, which cannot be publicly checked for methodology or validity.[15][16][17]

On January 22, 2008, it was revealed that the MPAA numbers on piracy in colleges was grossly inflated by up to 300%.[18] This comes at a time when the MPAA are trying to push a bill through which would compel universities to crack down on piracy.[19]


Impact on Pop Culture

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Numerous sociologists have studied the impact of the MPAA on films, and thus popular culture. It has been noted that the structure of an industry (such as regulations and limitations) will ultimately influence the outcome of the cultural product.[20] The MPAA sets and maintains regulations based on what they believe is morally sound. Films with overt or explicit sexual relationships often receive NC-17 ratings.[citation needed] For example, Brokeback Mountain initially received an NC-17 rating before being edited to receive an R rating.[citation needed] The MPAA’s subjective disapproval of overt or explicit sexuality is an indicator of their moral compass reflecting community standards. However, filmmakers and directors are often critical of the MPAA, because there seems to be no systematic guidelines for what type of content will receive a certain rating. The result of the MPAA’s control over films is a complex and mysterious one. Some argue that the MPAA has a huge impact on culture, by dictating what rating a film receives, and thus how commercially successful it is. In effect, the MPAA acts as a gatekeeper to what people can and cannot see. Almost every major theater company in the United States will not show NC-17 movies, and if a film receives an R rating, it limits the amount of potential movie-goers that can see the film (no one under 17, unless with an adult). Globally too, the MPAA’s influence is felt. Nearly every movie theater on the planet features American movies, which subsequently goes through the MPAA’s moral filter. In this sense, the MPAA’s moral standards reach far beyond the American movie theater. Globalization is increasing the impact of the MPAA as American films become more popular and accessible abroad. [21] As such, the MPAA has a sister organization, the Motion Picture Association, which represents the interests of MPAA members outside the United States.


Allegations of copyright infringement by the MPAA

In 2007, English software developer Patrick Robin reported that the MPAA was illegally using his blogging platform, Forest Blog. Forest Blog is distributed for free under a linkware license; anyone who uses it must link back to his site where Forest Blog is offered for download. To remove the links back to his site, they must purchase a license. The MPAA had removed the links, without paying for a license.

On November 23, 2007, Matthew Garret notified the MPAA that it was in violation of the GNU General Public License (GPL) for distributing a software toolkit designed to help universities detect instances of potentially illegal file-sharing on school networks. This tool kit was based on the Ubuntu version of the Linux operating system, which is licensed under the GPL. The violation was distributing a derived work without making the source code available. On December 1, 2007, Mr. Garrett notified the Internet service provider for the MPAA that, in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, he was requesting them to disable the offending distribution web site. It is not clear if this request was ever honored. However, the MPAA did change the site so as not to offer the toolkit for distribution.[22]


Monopoly

Since the MPAA members are the motion picture industry's most powerful studios, representing some of the world's largest media corporations, allegations of monopoly are often brought up by critics. Critics also point to the MPAA's support for closed standards that hinder competition. Other critics have suggested that films released by major studios (members of the MPAA) are given more deference in terms of ratings than films released by independents.[23] The movie This Film Is Not Yet Rated revolves around this idea.


See also

References

  1. ^ "Ratings doc falls foul of raters". Guardian Unlimited. 2005-12-08. Retrieved 2007-07-26. The NC-17 rating [...] has proved the commercial death of many a film
  2. ^ Teodorczuk, Tom (2006-08-14). "Classified material". New Statesman. Retrieved 2007-07-26. An NC-17 certification [...] is seen in Hollywood as the kiss of commercial death.
  3. ^ Bangeman, Eric (2006-01-24). "MPAA admits to unauthorized movie copying". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
  4. ^ http://www.mpaa.org/press_releases/2006_05_31.pdf
  5. ^ http://www.goodcopybadcopy.net/about
  6. ^ "P2P Is Unstoppable". torrentfreak.com. 2006-04-12. Retrieved 2007-07-26.
  7. ^ "Movie piracy more popular than ever". Computing.co.uk. 2007-01-29. Retrieved 2007-07-26.
  8. ^ "P2P Raids and Lawsuits Just don't Work". torrentfreak.com. 2006-06-22. Retrieved 2007-07-26.
  9. ^ "STUDIOS MOVE TO THWART ILLEGAL FILE SWAPPING ON MAJOR PIRATE NETWORKS: MPAA Companies Take Action Against Torrent, eDonkey and Newsgroup Sites Used by Millions" (PDF). MPAA. 2006-02-23.
  10. ^ Fiske, J. (n.d.). "The Jeaning of America". In Understanding Popular Culture (pp. 1–21). London: Routledge.
  11. ^ "SWEDISH AUTHORITIES SINK PIRATE BAY: Huge Worldwide Supplier of Illegal Movies Told No Safe Harbors for Facilitators of Piracy!" (PDF). MPAA. 2006-05-31.
  12. ^ Gross, Daniel (2004-11-21). "Does a Free Download Equal a Lost Sale?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  13. ^ Oberholzer, Felix (2004). "The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis" (PDF). UNC Chapel Hill. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Schwartz, John (2004-04-05). "A Heretical View of File Sharing". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  15. ^ Fisher, Ken (2006-05-05). "The problem with MPAA's shocking piracy numbers". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
  16. ^ "Movie Piracy Cost 6.1 Billion". torrentfreak.com. 2006-05-03. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  17. ^ "Hollywood study examines costs of film piracy". ZDNet (Reuters). 2006-05-03. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  18. ^ "MPAA admits college piracy numbers grossly inflated". arstechnica.com. 2008-01-22. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
  19. ^ "2008 shaping up to be "Year of Filters" at colleges, ISPs". arstechnica.com. 2008-01-22. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
  20. ^ Storey, J. (n.d.). Chapter 1: What is Popular Culture? In An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (pp. 1–20). Athens: The University of Georgia Press.
  21. ^ Ritzer, G. (n.d.). Chapter four: Globalization. In The Globalization of Nothing (pp. 71–96). Pine Forge Press.
  22. ^ Paul, Ryan (2007-12-04). "MPAA's University Toolkit hit with DMCA takedown notice after GPL violation" (HTML). ars technica. ars technica, LLC. Retrieved 2007-12-07. ((cite web)): Check date values in: |date= (help)
  23. ^ This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Film). 2006-01-25. ((cite AV media)): Unknown parameter |director= ignored (help)