In college I majored in Music Business, so I spent a significant amount of time learning the intricacies of how the music industry works, from marketing and promotion to artist management and entertainment law.
One of the most surprising revelations of my schooling was that, when you broke down every element of a production budget, the average CD costs about $2.10 to make (including everything from studio rental and producer/engineer fees to manufacturing and shipping costs). In short, record labels at the time (when most CDs were priced at $16) earned nearly $14 profit per sale, of which the artist might get 5-8%. It was even more shocking to learn that the artist is then required to PAY BACK all production costs out of their meager percentage so the label can recoup its investment!
At the same time consumer costs were rising, the quality of music was on the decline. Legions of crappy bands were signed in an attempt to replicate the success of other, less crappy bands. By the late ‘90s, the record-buying public had tired of paying $16 for an album that might have two decent songs, and thus began the digital revolution of illegal downloading and online piracy.
The Recording Industry Association of America (with Metallica famously leading the charge) won the battle against Napster, but the will of the people ultimately won the war, and the music industry was changed forever. When was the last time YOU paid $16 for a CD?
Now, we have SOPA– the Stop Online Piracy Act– a bill ostensibly designed to protect copyrights on intellectual property that, like so much governmental legislation in the post-9/11 era, goes WAY too far overboard. SOPA, and the lesser-known PIPA (Protect IP Act), were pushed through Congress by Hollywood’s lobbying arm, the Motion Picture Association of America.
The MPAA is running scared because they see profits dwindling at an alarming rate and, like the music industry before them, they want to do everything in their power to stop the pirates who are pilfering their plunder. But, rather than confronting piracy (mostly from Asian markets, where you can buy DVDs of blockbuster movies that haven’t even been released in the U.S. yet on a given street corner for under $5) head-on, the SOPA/PIPA bills make average consumers the enemy, with language that essentially allows Hollywood to police the Internet, shutting down any website it deems in violation without due process.
Under SOPA/PIPA, ANY site that is accused of piracy can be shut down at a moment’s notice. You know that famous video of Filipino prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and that freaky guy who lip-synchs badly to the latest chart-topping pop hits? YouTube could be shut down in a second for any of those videos.
Our website could be shut down simply because we used a song made 15 years ago by a band few people have heard of as the soundtrack for our video on swimming with manatees. But the bill’s implications would go FAR beyond amusing memes and blogs. SOPA would basically allow censorship of anything anyone deems offensive, drastically limiting freedom of speech on the Internet.
Here’s a quote from Wikimedia Foundation’s Kat Walsh on why Wikipedia (and thousands of other sites around the globe) are taking a stand against SOPA/PIPA, going dark today in protest:
“We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge… but that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.
In the end, SOPA and PIPA are really about the same things the RIAA vs. Napster lawsuit was about: Money, power and control. As a professional film critic (I’m a longtime member of the Southeast Film Critics Association), I’ve written for years about Hollywood’s downward spiral, lamenting the rising focus on 3D, special effects and blockbuster opening weekend grosses and the decline of antiquated notions such as solid storytelling and character development.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, as studios continue to over-inflate production costs, marketing costs and salaries of over-the-title stars, what average Joes pay at the box office will continue to climb.
It’s worth noting that the current cost of a movie ticket with the 3D surcharge tacked on is around the same price as a CD back in 2000: $16 (more than $60 for a family of four). Given the current flagging economy and the overall decline in quality of Hollywood properties, is it really a surprise that people are staying home in droves, either pirating movies, waiting for them to come to cable, or ignoring them altogether in favor of great TV shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Louie and Game of Thrones?
Meanwhile, Hollywood continues to churn out sensationalist crap that panders to the lowest common denominator week after week. For example, next weekend’s most high-profile release is The Grey, whose preview looks almost offensively awful. As in Taken, Liam Neeson stars as a man trying to reunite with his family (this time after a plain crash in the Alaskan wilderness), but instead of kidnappers with guns Neeson is battling a far more menacing force: The Big, Bad Wolf.
To quote the press release, “Hunting the humans are a pack of wolves who see them as intruders.” Casting aside the stupid premise and clichéd casting, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call Neeson (who ate wolf jerky in preparation for his role) and writer/director Joe Carnahan out for vilifying an endangered animal that has been responsible for just a handful of human deaths in the last 20 years– far less than domesticated dogs or other humans.
The Grey is reprehensible, and should be boycotted, for portraying wolves (who do everything they can to avoid ANY human contact) as malevolent creatures. But perhaps more importantly, it’s the sort of lazy, lowest-common-denominator storytelling that has become an epidemic in Hollywood. People are voting with their wallets, profits are way down, and THAT’s why the MPAA is clamoring out of fear to establish Gestapo-like control over the Internet.
If Hollywood really wants to reverse its inevitable decline, it needs to learn from the RIAA’s failures, spend less money on funding BS legislature that amounts to outright censorship and start focusing on creating quality product that people will actually want to pay to see. In the meantime, we, along with thousands of other websites all over the world, encourage concerned citizens to learn more about SOPA and PIPA, and contact your Congressman to voice your opinions on the Censorship of the Internet. Green Global Travel’s future, and that of the Internet itself, depends on it. –Bret Love
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