Content Cafe


Online platforms must do more to “mitigate the harms they are enabling”

by Charles Rivkin

Today, I want to address one of the most vibrant and interconnected ecosystems in human history. That, of course, is the internet, or more widely, cyberspace.

But as we meet today, the rules of interdependence that bring life and vibrancy and safety to any healthy ecosystem is in serious jeopardy across our online world.

We wake up every day to new revelations about election meddling, terrorist content, counterfeit drugs, child pornography, and a primary concern for my industry and all creative industries – online piracy. And while some of these ills are clearly more dangerous than others, they are all part of a continuum of harm that is threatening to engulf the freedoms that we treasure most about the internet.

If there is one thread common to all these problems, it is a lack of accountability, especially on some of the major online platforms where so many illegal and harmful activities are taking place.

That is why, today, I am calling upon the platforms to do more to mitigate the harms they are enabling – wittingly or unwittingly.

Or perhaps it is more accurate for me to say, here in Europe, that I am joining you in calling for accountability. Because, in many ways, Europe has led the way in recognizing the urgency of online accountability.

In the physical world, governments in my country, Europe, and around the world hold companies to higher standards. If the businesses they run, the services they offer, or the products they sell harm us as consumers – even indirectly – they are morally and even legally obligated to address the issue.

There is nothing extraordinary about this: we call it the rule of law.

But online, bad actors continue to plunder, steal and misappropriate at will. They hide behind false identities, disappearing into the safe shadows of anonymity.

The internet has become too integral and powerful in our lives to continue believing that there is – somehow – a moral line separating it from the norms of every other part of our society.

It is time for accountability – something that has been the watchword of my industry for many years.

Long before the era of digital transformation, the MPAA and our studios recognized that we needed our own accountability to our audiences, and we needed to be transparent about the content that is being shown in our movies.

50 years later, the MPAA’s movie rating system continues to provide parents in the United States with clear guidelines and transparent rules to help them evaluate whether or not a movie is suitable for their children.

As consumers’ digital viewing choices have shifted, we have adapted accordingly. We’re less a motion picture association than we are a content creation association.

Our six member-companies are active players in the streaming content market. The content that we produce is available on more than 450 legal online distribution services worldwide. And we announce innovative new deals all the time.

For example, Disney is launching an exciting new streaming service next year. Comcast is making Amazon Prime Video available on its X1 home entertainment platform. And several of the studios that I represent are backing a new mobile-first video service called NewTV.

But we have not let these advances in technology, or the way that consumers get their entertainment, news and other information, cloud the values that have been close to our hearts for generations…

Our members are increasingly platform companies, but they have gone into the online world with a clear sense of accountability to their audiences. They embrace that accountability as part of what distinguishes them in the marketplace.

That is why we were happy to see that the European Parliament has taken steps to secure the protection of minors in the context of online video platforms.

There were many disagreements about other aspects of that legislation, but I think most of us find it easy to agree on the importance of protecting children.

Some of our problems simply require that we show the kind of commitment to the rule of law you find here in Vienna.

To some extent the litany of problems I mentioned earlier come from the non-implementation and inaccurate application of already existing rule of law frameworks.

For example, in the EU, according to the E-Commerce Directive, everyone who does business online must identify themselves. Every respectable company complies with that.

And yet, despite existing EU norms on the internet, anonymous con artists continue to peddle pornography, pills, scams, fakes, and – yes – pirated films.

We don’t need a new law to fix an existing one. We simply need better implementation. The more that governments demonstrate zero tolerance for such practices… and the more that online intermediaries support them… the sooner we can start to see a new culture of accountability.

But even as my industry and so many others call for accountability, we are not, in any way, shape or form, asking for censorship.

I find it important to say this because, in the summer and the fall, the European legislators took two key votes that touched upon copyright.

This prompted those voices resisting accountability to cloud the public discourse with disingenuous arguments: that copyright protection equals censorship.

But we were heartened to see that, in the end, a majority of EU legislators did not succumb to that false equivalence.

The legislation surrounding that vote still needs much more work but, for now, we are grateful that the EU Parliament recognizes that copyright is crucial to all creative industries.

When we look past the smokescreen of well-funded Twitter campaigns, we see an even bigger threat and worry for our sector – and that is piracy.

This pervasive and sophisticated black market doesn’t just hurt my industry. It robs everyone in the value chain and poses a security risk to the audiences and consumers we are here to serve.

Across the world, large-scale, sophisticated, illicit enterprises continue to generate significant revenue for their perpetrators.

But they also cost millions of jobs. In Europe alone, piracy threatens the viability of 12 million jobs as well as the network of local, small businesses that service the industry.

Piracy preys on consumers too. According to a study by Risk IQ and the Digital Citizens Alliance, which has been borne out by other research, including from the European Union Intellectual Property Office, one third of pirate sites also contain malware, which is often used for identity theft and other nefarious schemes.

Pirate sites also sell advertisements alongside stolen creative works. Digital Citizens Alliance found that a sample of the most popular pirate sites generated, “an estimated $209 million in aggregate annual revenue from advertising alone.”

Illegal downloading is widespread. In 2017, according to Mark Monitor data, 9.4 billion pirated movies and TV shows were downloaded worldwide using peer-to-peer protocols alone, – and that doesn’t include other sources like streaming and downloading sites.

In Spain, for example, 33 percent of consumers accessed pirated films in 2017, and there were 4 billion illegal content views across all copyrighted content, resulting in lost revenues of more than 1.8 billion euros. And in Italy, 37 percent of internet users have pirated at least once in 2017, and movies are 81 percent of pirated content.

My industry is committed to addressing piracy in all its forms. We have, for example, created a partnership called the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, or ACE.

This brings together 30 leading content companies, including the six MPAA studios, Netflix and Amazon, as well as Constantin Film, Canal Plus and Sky, among many others, all focused on accountability and solutions.

At the European and Member State level, we are working with allies from the European industry. And right across Europe, we are working with local partners to secure court orders and make criminal referrals against major pirate sites and services.

We will continue to speak for creators’ rights and against piracy. And I am proud of how seamlessly film producers from both sides of the Atlantic cooperate.

The platforms have an opportunity to show leadership of their own by stepping up their side of the fight against illegal activity of all kinds.

We need policies that recognize the power of our stories, reward creators and their business partners, and allow us to produce, distribute, and protect the creative content that audiences love.

Together, we must all continue to speak for the creative sector and the 12 million jobs it provides in Europe.

Charles Rivkin is the Chairman/CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This an excerpt of his address at the Austrian EU Presidency Conference. Read the full text here