Looks like not everyone in Hollywood is on the same page when it comes to combating copyright infringement. Specifically, the Writers Guild of America West thinks that the multimillion-dollar damages the Motion Picture Association of America wants extracted from file-sharing sites “has little additional deterrent effect” and “high statutory penalties are not only often unreasonable but unpayable.” The strong comments from the WGAW comes in a submission the guild made on January 17 (read it here) to the Commerce Department on its paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy. Citing that “television and film are controlled by a handful of media companies who decide what content consumers have access to,” the guild’s remarks are a clear slap to the MPAA and the studios from the representatives of more than 8,000 frontline content creators.
No surprise the MPAA does not agree with that POV. “The deterrence provided by the current range of statutory damages is of vital importance to MPAA’s members and other copyright owners, especially in the online environment,” says the studio lobbying group in its own submission (read it here).
The WGA West, on the other hand, takes a more broad perspective. “While many of the most pirated works are created by WGA members, we believe that copyright must be balanced with the preservation of an open, competitive Internet and protection of consumers’ rights to access the lawful content, services and applications of their choice,” says the 8-page letter from WGA West Research Analyst Marvin Vargas. “Achieving this balance requires the creation of guiding principles for the development of piracy detection and prevention tools in laws and industry agreements that do not infringe on free speech and the right to privacy,” he notes, bucking the conventional Hollywood approach to the issue. “While there is still room for improvement in reducing copyright infringement, copyright policy should continue to protect the openness and innovation that has made the Internet an engine of economic growth,” the letter concludes.
The MPAA has made settlements ,n recent years, like the $110 million and promise to shut down it got from isoHunt in October — trophies in the war over piracy and copyright infringement. In its letter of January 17, the WGA West not only blasts such an approach but cautions the government against its proposed new policy of making online streaming of unauthorized content punishable as a felony. “The extension of a policy that may not actually limit piracy or result in recouped monies to content creators has troubling implications for artistic expression,” the WGA West letter notes.
“Allowing felony charges for such activities could have a chilling effect on artists who use such independent forums and may harm sites that allow streaming of user generated content by driving away contributors,” it adds. That’s hogwash claims the MPAA. “There is no evidence of any epidemic of unreasonably large statutory damages awards in copyright cases. And courts are already considering a variety of factors while calculating statutory damages in order to determine what amount is ‘just,’ as the statute instructs,” the Associations states in its own 14-page letter. “Policymakers should not give undue attention to rare, exceptional cases, nor to anecdote, but should instead focus on the importance of statutory damages to the overall copyright system.”
The DGA and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are among others who have also filed comments with the government over the proposed policy.