Thursday, April 8, 2004
5:00 - 6:45 p.m.
20 Ames Street
president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA),
will discuss the impact of digital technology on the entertainment
industry. Drawing on his experience as an advocate for major
producers and distributors of entertainment programming for
television, cable, home video, he will discuss the promise and
the dangers of emerging technologies for the production and
distribution of films and TV shows.
of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA),
Jack Valenti is a leading figure in the American film
and television industry's efforts to fight digital piracy. A
former journalist, Valenti has written three non-fiction books
- The Bitter Taste of Glory, A Very Human President,
and Speak Up With Confidence - and the political novel,
Protect and Defend. He earned a B.A. from the University
of Houston and an M.B.A. from Harvard.
Thomas Doherty is associate professor of American Studies
and chair of the Film Studies Program at Brandeis University.
His books include Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and
Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934 and Cold War,
Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture.
He also serves on the editorial boards of Cinema Journal
is an edited summary, not a verbatim transcript.]
DOHERTY introduced Jack Valenti by offering a brief account
of his career in advertising, national politics and president
for 38 years of the Motion Picture Association of America. Recalling
Valenti's service as a special advisor to President Lyndon B.
Johnson, Doherty described him as "an eyewitness to, and
participant in, more than his share of history." The organization
that became the MPAA was established in 1922, Doherty said.
Since then "there have been seven popes, 15 U.S. presidents,
and 33 managers of the Boston Red Sox, but only three presidents
of the MPAA."
spoke of his service under Lyndon B. Johnson, and his early
days as MPAA president, but focused on the current issues of
piracy and the need for new distribution models for movies.
he acknowledged a band of students who were dressed as pirates
in the audience. He jokingly welcomed these "friends of
Johnny Depp, the Pirates of the Caribbean."
took the reigns as MPAA president in 1966, his first major initiative
was to remove the last vestiges of Hays Office censorship. In
1968 he abolished the Production Code, the industry-imposed
set of guidelines that spelled out what was not considered morally
acceptable in the production of movies. As an alternative, he
introduced the movie
instituted the film rating system, he had two objectives in
mind: first to protect children and provide a warning system
for parents, but more importantly to "free the screen."
As a defender and advocate of the First Amendment, Valenti despises
the censorship of the Production Code, which limited the kind
of stories directors could tell. However, with the directors'
right to tell stories is the concomitant right of the audience
not to watch them. Despite criticism that the system is too
subjective, Valenti defends it as necessary for parents to be
able to make decisions about their children.
In the last
decade, copyright protection and piracy have overtaken censorship
issues as the main concerns of the MPAA. In a media world that
is becoming increasingly digital, Valenti sees the need for
changing attitudes towards intellectual property, and the necessity
for new business models for the online distribution of movies.
believes there is something substantive about creative property,
such as a poem or movie, that makes it just real as physical
property; and that it ought to have the same rights and privileges.
He makes an analogy that forms the root of his beliefs on intellectual
property and piracy: "If I make a table," he says,
"it is my table and no one can test that. If you take it
out of my house or garage, you've taken something that belongs
to me, and we know that's not right. Why isn't something that
flourishes in the seedbed of somebody's imagination as worthy
as making a table?"
copying a DVD is an act of stealing, not very different from
stealing a DVD from a video store. Valenti cannot understand
why people would never steal a DVD from Blockbuster's for fear
of being arrested, but delight in copying a DVD for themselves.
When people can take movies without paying for them, such piracy
threatens an artist's ability to be creative.
is rapidly advancing, and people will soon be able to download
media faster than before. At Caltech, Valenti learned of an
experimental development called FAST, a data transfer protocol
for the Internet that is fast enough to download a full-length
movie in less than five seconds, and could be introduced to
the market in as little as 18 months. Valenti believes that
piracy will rise with the increased sophistication of technology.
At a higher rate of piracy, this kind of pillaging will make
it hard to nourish new talent and promote movies.
recognizes the Internet as the greatest distribution channel
that ever existed. The movie industry is willing to embrace
the web as an efficient distribution system, to make movies
available on demand for a price that is fair to the consumer
and delivered in a safe fashion. This will give people more
choices than they ever had in terms of movie titles and ways
of viewing. This is why Valenti and other members of the industry
are aggressively meeting with IT people for help with developing
the technology for protection.
believes in objective and detailed discourse, and has great
respect for people like Lawrence Lessig, with whom he disagrees
on certain issues but values the friendship and discussion they
share. He is anguished by the hostility and partisanship in
politics today, which was not present in the days of the Johnson
In your testimony before Congress last September, you addressed
piracy as a threefold problem. There is the technological problem
of protecting movies and DVDs from being illegally copied and
distributed. The need for aggressive enforcement of the law,
or the rewriting of laws made in the pre-digital age is a legal
problem. Finally, there is the ethical problem, which I believe
is the most important. How can you change the mentality of people
who don't believe they are stealing by copying or downloading
I don't know that we can. On all the college campuses I have
visited so far, I find the same attitudes among even the most
brilliant students, the so-called "leaders of tomorrow."
Although they agree that it is a kind of stealing, they reason
that everyone does it, and that it costs too much to buy CDs
and DVDs anyway. They don't believe they are hurting the industry
when stars and studios make so much money. What they don't realize
is the carpenters and lighting crews feel the effect too. As
the copyright holder, the studio helps to ensure that the film
will collect all its revenue and make a profit. Every movie
and TV show has residuals that go to a pension for the welfare
funds of different guilds. Members of the guilds get a piece
of every film that is made. I only ask that people consider
whether or not creative property is worthy of being respected.
In 1968, Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act, which
extended corporate and author copyrights for an additional 20
years. Why was the film industry so zealous about getting this
passed? This act is enabling huge conglomerates to constrain
works that should be in the public domain.
The principle reason for the Extension Act was to provide for
the same term of protection as exists in Europe. A difference
in copyright terms between the United States and Europe would
negatively affect the international operations of the entertainment
industry, since American works that are in the public domain
here could be expoited elsewhere.
In your testimony before Congress, you expressed vehement opposition
to both Internet piracy and the ready access to pornography
on the web. The two issues are linked in that pornography, like
movies, is available on peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing systems.
I have an old-fashioned obligation to parents. Most parents
do not know when they go to file swapping sites that it is an
amalgam of music, movies, and the most squalid pornography.
The most offensive material is available for children to download.
Yet because I believe so strongly in the First Amendment, I
want parents to be able to deal with it, so I sound these alarms.
In the 1930s, the Production Code was established as a self-regulatory
agency that allowed classical Hollywood to thrive without the
hassle of federal censorship. With the Production Code, the
criteria for what was acceptable in movies was standardized
and published. How does today's ratings board make its decisions?
When I invented the movie ratings system, I consulted with many
social scientists and psychologists about what could be considered
excessive violence, or what constituted adult content. Their
ideas were vapory. To this day, even the Supreme Court is unable
to define obscenity. It is a very subjective process.
board is composed of parents who look at films through the eyes
of parents. The ratings system merely tells something about
a film. A director can accept the rating he is given, or appeal
to a board of theater owners and distributors. No director has
to cut a millimeter of film it is still his decision
what to include or exclude in a movie.
JENKINS, director, Comparative Media Studies:
What you are describing as a crisis in copyright is also a crisis
in fair use. As digital technology has expanded our ability
to quote media, there is a lack of leadership in Hollywood for
defining guidelines for what constitutes fair use. Studios demand
such a high price from academics who use material for teaching.
Why can't the MPAA help establish guidelines for the scholarly
use of materials? Can you work with academics to enable and
promote media literacy?
It is very hard for the MPAA to set guidelines for each individual
owner of a movie and say what they can or cannot charge, because
of anti-trust laws. The MPAA is not allowed to set a business
model for every owner.
You have spoken before against VHS, that if people could record
programs with their VCRs, it would be the death of the movie
industry. But now VHS and DVD sales make up over half the industry's
No one remembers the context in which I said that. Instead of
abolishing VHS, I believed there should be a copyright royalty
fee on blank cassettes, which is what they do in Europe now,
and the money goes back to the owners of the copyright. The
Supreme Court did not rule that VHS infringed upon copyrights,
so there was no royalty fee.
The record industry blames piracy for the decline in music sales,
but there are other factors such as the lagging economy, or
the rise in spending on video games and other forms of entertainment.
My personal experience was that downloading got me more interested
in music, and I have actually spent more money on CDs. How do
they make the correlation that the increase in downloading leads
to decrease in sales? Do you expect the same correlation for
I cannot speak for the music industry, and I don't make the
same correlation for movies today. Rather, my emphasis is on
looking towards the future of movies. Right now, it takes a
while to download movies even with a broadband connection. Next
year, it could take 5 seconds if systems like FAST are launched.
If that happens, the fate of the movie industry will be bleak.
I have a problem with how the industry defines the terms "stealing"
and "loss." Making a copy of a movie is not the same
as stealing a DVD from the video store, because they still have
their copy. I don't mean to say it's not wrong, but it is not
the same. How can the industry attribute monetary losses to
piracy when it represents money they never had? For example,
I could download movies that I would never pay to see in the
The industry loses about $3.5 billion worldwide in analog and
hard goods piracy. This means that if you buy a DVD on the streets
of Beijing, you will not buy a legitimate copy from a store.
That is how we calculate the loss of a sale. Lost revenues are
what every business calculates. We don't have a number on the
losses from digital piracy. As I said before, I'm not as concerned
about what's happening today, but what will happen in the future.
CONDRY, MIT Foreign Languages and Literature: Isn't it misleading
to say that creative property is the same as a table? File sharing
takes place in a kind of ethical setting, where you are often
sharing with friends and there is a social aspect. Can non-commercial
use such as sampling or building interest for a piece of work
be acceptable? I also believe that people will always pay for
quality. Why not build that side of the equation instead? As
Asia and other parts of the world are building different ideas
of intellectual property, are you putting the American industry
at risk by protecting revenues rather than generating enthusiasm
for new media?
I don't agree that a space like Kazaa
is ethical. If one copy of a movie is available online for the
whole world to see at home, then no one will buy it. Only about
1.5 out of 10 movies make their money back from theatrical exhibition.
Movies need other venues such as cable and home video to survive.
If you shrink the profits from those venues, you shrink the
reinvestment in movies. Non-commercial use will destroy the
business, which is very fragile.
BROOKS, MIT Media Lab: What about the rights of consumers
who buy DVDs legitimately, but suffer from problems with regional
codes? I purchase a DVD in Australia and can't see it in the
United States, which makes me want to download movies.
Regional codes were the result of parallel imports. Smugglers
from Asia ship bootleg material to the U.S., and regional codes
ensure that such discs cannot be played. I understand why they
came into being, but there are machines now that can play all
Since the South Korean film industry has become more vibrant,
it is trying to defend the quota system that requires movie
theaters to show homegrown movies on at least 40% of their screens.
Can you comment on that situation?
The quota demands South Korean cinemas show local films at least
146 days a year. I am fighting that quota because I am an advocate
of competition. We have the right to enter their market as much
as they can enter the U.S market. They just need to find a theater
and distributor for it here. If a theater in Korea wants to
show an American film, it should have the right to. Some theaters
have to close because there are not enough Korean movies to
keep them alive.
The music industry is trying a different business model with
websites like Apple's iTunes that charges $0.99 per download.
Are there any new business models for selling movies?
There are websites like Movielink and Cinema Now that have Internet
rentals for low prices. New channels for movies are still being
tested and improved.
FERNANDEZ, CMS graduate student: A large amount of money
is spent on publicity for a movie. Why can't the industry focus
on the quality of the movie, and rely more on word of mouth?
Marketing is important because it gets the public in an excited,
movie-going mood. It only helps a movie on the first weekend.
After that, word of mouth does take over. Marketing adds to
the social experience of a movie that is not easily duplicated
McCARTY, CMS graduate student: Projection in theaters is
being converted to digital is this helping the industry
by saving costs in distribution?
There are 178 digital screens worldwide, and the number will
grow exponentially. The possibility of beaming a movie to multiple
theaters saves a lot of money. Transporting large, awkward movie
reels are more of a hassle. However, keep in mind that the visual
quality of 35 millimeter is still very good, though a digital
image is slightly more pristine.
WEISE, CMS graduate student: Can you elaborate on what a
bleak future for the movie industry might actually look like?
It won't be the end of Hollywood, but it will be very different.
There will be more pilfering of movies, because it is so easy.
There will be less investment in films, fewer films made, and
jobs will be lost. There is already much unrest over movie productions
moving to Canada, so imagine if there are fewer productions.
also spoke of his career before the MPAA, in particular his
relationship with Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1952, he co-founded
the advertising and political consulting agency of Weekley &
Valenti. In 1955 he met then Senate Majority Leader Johnson.
Valenti's agency was in charge of the press during the visit
of President John F. Kennedy to Texas. Valenti was in the motorcade,
six cars back of the president, when he was assassinated in
Dallas on November 22, 1963. Within an hour of Kennedy's assassination,
Valenti was hired as Special Assistant to President Johnson.
Who or what were the most significant influences in your life?
VALENTI: Lyndon B. Johnson had the biggest impact on my life; I would
not be speaking before you today without him. My current job
with the movie industry may seem glamorous enough, but my three
years working in the White House was the "summer"
of my life. Helping the president to improve American society
was beyond personal ambition or reward. Many great things were
passed under Johnson, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
Medicare, and the support of education through federal grants.
I owe everything to Johnson.
Can you share your account of what happened on November 22,
1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?
I have a searing memory of the events that I pray this country
will never go through again. I was in the motorcade, six cars
behind Kennedy. When the cars ahead of us suddenly went from
eight to eighty miles per hour, it never crossed my mind that
such a brutal act had occurred. I thought the president was
late for his speech at the Dallas Trade Mart, and I ordered
our driver to take us there. That is where I found out that
the president and governor had been shot. A deputy's car took
me to Parkland Hospital. When one of Johnson's aides told me
the president was dead, I became unhinged. But I had to compose
myself, because he told me I was to go aboard Air Force One,
and I had no idea why.
car took me to Love Field where I boarded Air Force One. There,
Johnson asked me to fly back to Washington with him and be on
his staff. I had never even been to the White House, and didn't
know what it meant to be on the president's staff. I didn't
have a place to live in Washington, so Johnson said I could
stay with him for the time being. So I lived on the third floor
of the White House for a month and a half. I was one of two
special assistants to ever live there; the other was Harry Hopkins
under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
made a crucial decision on the airplane that I marvel at: he
wanted to be sworn in with a proper ceremony. He wanted a picture
of it to be flashed around the world, so that amid the anxiety
and desperation, he could show that the Constitution worked
- that the nation goes on, and the president lives. Johnson
asked Mrs. Kennedy to stand beside him to show that Kennedy's
legacy would be carried on. Mrs. Kennedy was in a catatonic
trance; her pink blouse was still stained with blood, and she
wouldn't change it. I am in that picture watching the two of
them, stunned at the enormity of the situation.
Johnson was sworn in on the plane, we flew to Washington. That
night, we watched TV as the picture of the ceremony flashed
around the world. Johnson ruminated over the bills and acts
he would go on to pass. When I went to bed, I wondered if it
was all a nightmare.
by Lilly Kam
by Vera Leung