Corporate Copyright Scofflaws 0004 – The Motion Picture Association of America

The largest copyright pirates are the large corporations, particularly in the content distribution business. Yes, those companies who scream the loudest that their customers are ‘pirating’ movies, songs, books, etc. In this series, we are going to look at cases where these companies have engaged in large scare copyright infringement.

In all cases I will be working with published information. It is possible that this information may not be up to date, or may not accurately reflect the current status of the copyright infringement. If I am supplied documentary evidence which shows a different status, I will publish an update. In cases where a lawsuit ensued, and the settlement was sealed, I will not update the published information, unless I am provided with:

1) A copy of the settlement
2) Permission to publish the settlement

While I realize this may cause problems for one or more of the parties involved, I believe in only publishing things I can reference.

Note that the above text will appear in every article, if you’ve read it once, feel free to skip down to the divider.


Let’s talk about the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA). From the ‘about’ section of their website:

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its international counterpart, the Motion Picture Association (MPA) serve as the voice and advocate of the American motion picture, home video and television industries, domestically through the MPAA and internationally through the MPA. Today, these associations represent not only the world of theatrical film, but serve as leader and advocate for major producers and distributors of entertainment programming for television, cable, home video and future delivery systems not yet imagined.

Founded in 1922 as the trade association of the American film industry, the MPAA has broadened its mandate over the years to reflect the diversity of an ever changing and expanding industry. The initial task assigned to the association was to stem criticism of American movies, which were then silent, and to restore a more favorable public image for the motion picture business. Today the association continues to advocate for strong protection of the creative works produced and distributed by the industry, fights copyright theft around the world, and provides leadership in meeting new and emerging industry challenges.

What we have here is a trade association, consisting of the ‘major producers and distributors’ of video products. At least that is what they claim. The statement is partially true. The MPAA and it’s international sister are made up of a group of large companies, that is true. They are not, and have never been the major producers of video. The consumer has always produced more video than the MPAA member companies, and with the recent availability of inexpensive, high powered video recording equipment, the MPAA’s share of the amount of video produced every year has dropped dramatically.

And we aren’t talking only amateur videos, like when I video my puppies chasing a ball in our back yard, variants of which are common YouTube fodder. Also there is a rising class of professionals who are not MPAA members, who produce high quality television and movies. For example there’s Taunya’s wonderful series Raising Kayn, there’s The Gods, SaberOn!, Star Wreck, etc., etc. There’s some really wonderful stuff out there.

But the MPAA copyright scofflaws? Well they were.

What happened was that the MPAA decided to produce a software toolkit that they could supply to universities which would allow the university to determine if file sharing was taking place on the university network. Or possibly they were trying to force the universities to use it. This isn’t really clear.

What is clear is that the MPAA decided to not support their fellow ‘intellectual property’ producer, Microsoft. Whether the issue was cost, or stability, we don’t know. What we do know is that they produced their software toolkit using Ubuntu GNU-Linux, demonstrating their confidence in the power of free software!

Ars had an excellent article on the situation:

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recently released a software toolkit designed to help universities detect instances of potentially illegal file-sharing on school networks. The toolkit is based on the increasingly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution and includes the Apache web server as well as custom traffic monitoring software created by the MPAA. Although the toolkit was previously available from a web site set up by the MPAA, the software was removed last night after the organization received a request from Ubuntu technical board member Matthew Garrett to take it down due to GPL violations.

When the MPAA did not respond to his requests, Matthew actually had to resort to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act take down notice sent to the MPAA’s ISP to get action. The problem was that the MPAA, that great advocate of copyright, was not in compliance with copyright law, specifically they did not release the source as required when you distribute an application which uses code which is covered by the General Public License.

Do you get the impression that there’s two sets of rules? One for them (we can do whatever we want and you can’t stop us) and one for us (do what we say, not what we do).

The author of the web comic, Everybody Loves Eric Raymond had a lot of fun with the situation:

Gotta love that stuff (and yes, this is a nudge to the author to get back to work – it’s been over two years since he’s posted a stripe!)

Wayne Borean

Saturday April 10, 2010


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