If your favorite websites are blacked out today, blame Hollywood. At least, that's the line put out by those sites that chose to go dark in protest over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). With such Internet cornerstones as Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist, Mozilla, and (to a lesser extent) Google joining in the day-long protest, it seems no one online is in favor of the legislation -- except, that is, for the movie studios and the conglomerates that own them. It's a public relations battle between Hollywood and the rest of the Internet, and so far, it looks like the Internet is winning.

The old media giants support the proposed bills, arguing that they're necessary to to protect copyrighted content against online piracy. The Motion Picture Association of America, the film industry's main lobbying arm, says the acts are needed to stem a tide of online theft that drains $58 billion and 373,000 jobs from the U.S. economy each year. But pitted against Hollywood are not only the Internet giants, who say the bills will stifle innovation and lead to online censorship, but also the White House, which warned last week that it won't support "legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

The movie and music industries have been vigorously fighting online piracy for more than a decade, often seeking favorable legislation to aid their efforts to put content thieves out of business. Certainly the film industry feels beleaguered, especially after last year, which saw a dramatic drop in movie theater attendance and a continuing slump in DVD sales. But it's not clear that those unsold movie tickets and discs can be blamed on piracy.

When moviegoers talk these days about why they're not buying what Hollywood has to offer, they cite the price of tickets, the unpleasantness of the theatrical experience (rude patrons, dirty auditoriums, poor picture and sound quality, etc.), the quick availability of most movies on (legal) streaming home video or on-demand cable, and the often lackluster quality of the movies themselves. Among issues Hollywood has to work on if it wants to bring people back into theaters or get them to start buying home video copies again, piracy doesn't seem like it ought to be very high on the list.

Even if people were thrilled with the current slate of movies, they have no love, no brand fondness, for the faceless companies that distribute them. Certainly, the studios haven't made themselves a daily, branded, value-for-your-money presence in people's lives the way their favorite websites have. So Internet users are more likely to be swayed by the arguments of the anti-SOPA forces -- especially now that they've seen what time spent without their favorite sites might look like if it lasted indefinitely. Are they being alarmist about the threat the bills may pose to online openness and creativity? Maybe, but they've also managed to shift the argument. Instead of Hollywood vs. piracy, it's become Hollywood vs. everyone who works, shops, and plays online. That doesn't seem like a war Hollywood can win.
categories Movies