The seemingly never-ending battle between entertainment conglomerates and technological progress has entered a new phase. Now that the record companies have neutered Napster (a process that involved putting a tight rubber band around Napster’s testicles and waiting until the balls dropped off so they could be crushed under the mega-conglomerates’ boot), studios have aimed their sights on other forms of digital duplication. According to a New York Times article on Thursday, March 14 entitled “Piracy, Or Innovation? It’s Hollywood vs. High Tech” by Amy Harmon, the entertainment industry is putting the screws on the good folks who make DVD players, CD players, and computers, demanding they create a fool-proof technology that prevents us from copying and distributing copies of music and movies.
OK, let’s ignore for a second the fact that doing this is going to prevent people from making perfectly legal copies of the movies and albums they shelled out hard-earned dough for. Our founding fathers took great pains to introduce concepts of fair usage into copyright law, so that intellectual property did not remain controlled by just one person, company, or vast devil-worshipping conglomerate, no matter how powerful. Let’s also ignore the suggestion that what the studios are demanding would screw up the machines that play these things, making computers run even slower than they already do and causing DVD and CD players to freeze up. Instead, let’s focus on the f*****g arrogance displayed by the studios in demanding that somebody else protect their property.
In the New York Times article, Intel chairman Andrew S. Grove asks, “Is it the responsibility of the world at large to protect an industry whose business model is facing a strategic challenge?” The simple fact is the landscape is changing. It’s changed before…in the 1950’s with the advent of television, in the 80’s with home video and now with new technology, including the Internet. Every single time there’s some innovation that benefits consumers, the movie studios have reacted by pissing and moaning about how (insert new technology here) will kill Hollywood. If this were true, the Troma Team would be doing backflips of joy. But even though it isn’t true, we’re still in favor of all forms of technological innovation. The more methods of delivery we have to get our movies to as many people as possible, the better. The fact is that the conglomerates are desperately afraid of competition and anything that might make them have to think a wee bit. It’s much easier for them to simply recycle the content from every tentacle of their corporation a gazillion times. Not only do you see the same stories over and over (articles from Time, Sports Illustrated, and Entertainment Weekly are read out loud verbatim on the Time Warner/AOL-owned CNN), but now you see the same talking heads on every channel repeating themselves. News anchors have always been pre-fabricated Barbie and Ken types, but now it’s the exact same Barbie and Ken on three different channels.
The media conglomerates have a history of crying to the lawmakers in Washington whenever it seems like they’re about to make only $700 billion a year instead of $100 trillion. In 1998, they f****d with the copyright law to make it perfectly legal for Mickey Mouse to remain protected by copyright in virtual perpetuity. Copyright law was established to protect artists and make it possible for them to earn a living. The “artist” who created Mickey Mouse has been buried in a cryogenic tube for over thirty years now, so obviously this new copyright law is in place to protect the Global Disney Axis from losing control of a character they haven’t even bothered to put in a movie for about a decade. If Mickey Mouse was in the public domain, Disney would still make billions off the character and its related merchandise. But talented artists like Bill Plympton or Jan Svankmajer would also have an opportunity to reinvent the character and use it creatively in ways Disney never imagined. Some of the greatest art of all time is a re-imagined variation of an existing work, from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to Walter Murphy and The Big Apple Band’s “A Fifth of Beethoven”. Art is a process of building on what has come before and the copyright law of 1998 puts a big chunk of what has come before off-limits.
While the copyright law fiasco changed the law of the land, the Napster disaster was fought in the courts. When record companies realized that Napster was exposing its users to good music by unsigned bands instead of corporate-approved horse puke by teen pop-tarts like Britney Spears, they got the whole thing shut down, bought out by Bertelsmann and re-invented as yet another slave to the corporate machine (for more on Napster, copyright law, and the whole ball of wax, check out the entire Napster series of essays).
Now, instead of making an effort to seize the opportunity presented by new digital technologies, the big boys are trying to cut it off at the knees so that everything remains just as it is. The last truly subversive movement to grip the cultural landscape was punk in the late 1970’s and once that seemed to be growing out of control, the mainstream media stepped in to put the kibosh on it (symbolized with extreme subtlety in Terror Firmer when the punk production assistant is cut off at the knees by a pair of colliding semi trucks with razor-sharp loading platforms). But it really doesn’t matter what the conglomerates do to try to stop this runaway freight train, because things aren’t going to stay the same. Technology is going to keep on plowing ahead, with or without the blessing of the mega-conglomerates. Independents like Troma will continue to explore how to use this technology to everyone’s benefit. Because we listened to our fans, Troma was one of the first studios to have its own website and was one of the first studios to fully embrace the interactive qualities of DVD. Once the independents have figured out how to benefit from new technologies, the big guys will jump aboard and act like it was all their idea in the first place. Until that day comes (and it will, just as it did with home video and pay TV), our only hope is that the techno-nerds in the computer sector are strong enough to withstand this attempted a*s-rape by the devil-worshipping media giants.
The conglomerates are quickly alienating themselves from the people whose money keep them in business by acting in ways that are counterproductive to what consumers really want. It’s our hope that disillusionment with these tactics will reach a point where supporters of truly independent art will rise up and demonstrate against these Goliaths. A perfect site for such a mass demonstration would be the Cannes Film Festival in May 2002. The eyes, ears and anuses of the world are upon Cannes each year, so a protest against the fear-mongering and bullying of the entertainment industry at Cannes would reach far and wide. It’s time for the people to make their voices heard and show the world that there is more to film, music, and performance art than what’s being forced down everyone’s throat at the local mall. We can and must show the suits in the glass towers what the people really want. The leaders of the World Trade Organization ignored the legion of complaints lodged against it until groups of brave students and citizens in Seattle and Genoa, Italy demonstrated loudly and visibly against them. These people succeeded in getting the attention of both the WTO and the world. Today, at the very least the WTO is pretending to listen to the protestors and paying lip service to their complaints by putting fashionable anti-authoritarian spokesmen like Bono on panels. At this point, the entertainment cartel isn’t even doing that much. They are denying us the inalienable rights given to a democratic society by creating a system of nepotism that serves no one but themselves. We must remind them that this is a democracy and democracy is a work in progress, changing at the behest of the people, not at the command of a few cantankerous zillionaires who own half the planet and a good chunk of the moon. If our voices are raised in protest, I firmly believe the conglomerates will realize that they continue to ignore us at their peril.
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