Hollywood and the hackers
By Adam Livingstone and Richard Taylor
Motion Picture Association President Dan Glickman locks horns with
Electronic Frontier Foundation’s John Perry Barlow over big media’s war
with the internet.
The biggest pirate movie site on the Internet was raided by police a few
days ago. Within 48 hours it was up and running in a different country. It’s
just another week on the barricades of the information revolution.
Over and again we at geek central find ourselves reading about the latest
skirmish between the copyright cops and the darknet without ever hearing
that there might be a war going on.
The hackers want to break Hollywood on the wheel of their collective
ingenuity and show the suits who is in charge.
Big media wants to make money from the internet like it does with every
other outlet, or at the very least not have piracy forever draining away
And they have been hammering away at each other for years now.
But could there ever be peace between these two warring tribes? Have they
got anything to teach one another, or will they spend yet another decade
‘not getting’ each other’s point of view?
Newsnight decided to track down the two most powerful voices on either side
of the divide and ask them about their own philosophies and what they
thought of their opponent.
John Perry Barlow used to be the lyricist in the US supergroup ‘The
Grateful Dead.’ He went on to co-found the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
the pressure group that’s placed itself front and centre in the fight to
keep the tanks of government and corporation off the lawns of cyberspace.
Congressman Dan Glickman became US Secretary for Agriculture under Bill
Clinton. Nowadays he’s the President and CEO of the Motion Picture
Association of America, the body that wields the collective political and
legal muscle of the Hollywood studios.
Here’s an edited highlight of what they have to say about one another:
John Perry Barlow :
The entertainment industry is as it always has
been. It’s a rough bunch of people and a rough industry. I don’t think that
the movie industry is any more ready than any other part of the information
industries to adapt itself to the information age. But it’s going to go
there one way or the other.
And whatever its cries of protest and growing pains, it’ll make it
eventually – it’s just going to do everything it can, as the record industry
has done, as the publishing industry has done, to stop progress in that
direction until it gets its act together.
And I fear that it’s done grave harm to itself and to the future in the
process of trying to slow down progress, but it’ll go there inevitably.
Dan Glickman :
John Perry Barlow is the one who’s doing a
disservice to the consumers, because you see if you don’t adequately
compensate the artist, the director, the creator, the actor, they won’t do
it in the first place so people won’t get movies.
So, yeah, we should be protecting our copyright but it doesn’t mean that
we shouldn’t be looking for new ways to get that content to people in modern
ways – particularly young people who [understand] computers and electronic
equipment and the internet very well.
These are aging industries run by aging men, and they’re up
against 17-year-olds who have turned themselves into electronic Hezbollah
because they resent the content industry for its proprietary practices. And
I don’t have a question about who’s going to win that one eventually.
There are a lot of kids out there copying and distributing movies not
because they care about seeing the movies or sharing them with their friends
but because they want to stick it to the movie business. It’s widely assumed
that you can’t compete with free and that seems like a reasonable thing to
think. But this has not been my experience. I mean I’ve made a fair amount
of money over the years writing songs for ‘The Grateful Dead’ who allowed
their fans to tape their concerts.
We were at one point the biggest grossing performing act in the United
States, and most of our records went platinum sooner or later.
It’s an economic model that has worked in my experience and I think it
does work. It’s just that it seems like it wouldn’t. It seems
It is ridiculous to believe that you can give product away
for free and be more successful. I mean it defies the laws of nature.
Would a clothing store give all their clothes for free? Would a car
dealership give all its cars for free? Of course not. If they don’t make a
profit in this world they’re out of business. That’s just the laws of human
If I were to encounter Dan Glickman on the street and we
were to have a civilised conversation about this subject, which would be a
long shot, I’d tell him to relax.
I’d tell him to spend less of the resources of his industry on fighting
the inevitable and more on learning about the conditions that they find
themselves in and recognising the opportunities, which I think are vast and
very encouraging. But they can’t get to those opportunities until they quit
trying to stop progress.
First of all I’d tell John Perry Barlow that I’m very relaxed
and if we met each other we’d probably have a very good time. But all of us
kind of need to chill out.
The fact of the matter is that people who create content for movies and
television have to make a profit. If they don’t you won’t see all this
wonderful stuff and listen to it.
But he is right to the extent that we need to be finding new and
different ways to get our content to people, whether it’s internet or
whether it’s iPod or whether it’s remotely accessed in various parts of the
world. If [we] don’t the consumer will not be satisfied and in this business
the consumer is king and queen. If you don’t make them happy they won’t buy
I’ve got good news and bad news and good news. And the good
news is that you guys have managed to buy every major legislative body on
the planet, and the courts are even with you. So you’ve done a great job
there and you should congratulate yourself.
But you know the problem is – the bad news is that you’re up against a
dedicated foe that is younger and smarter that you are and will be alive
when you’re dead. You’re 55 years old and these kids are 17 and they’re just
smarter than you. So you’re gonna lose that one.
But the good news is that you guys are mean sons of bitches and you’ve
been figuring out ways of ripping off audiences and artists for