February 13, 2012
In 2011, two bills, the PROTECT IP Act
in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act
in the House, were introduced in Congress to address the problem of digital theft.
These bills, while not identical, had the same overarching purpose: they would have simply extended current U.S. laws that are already being actively applied to illegal U.S. websites to criminal websites that locate overseas specifically to evade U.S. laws. These bills were never seen by the DGA as an end to all digital theft, but as an important part of a long term battle. Unfortunately a tidal wave of mistruths, most centered on the erroneous claims that the bills would infringe on free speech or break the Internet and popularized by Internet companies who reap hundreds of millions of dollars through advertising related to these illegal sites, quickly took root online and successfully forced the postponement of any further action on the bills.
The DGA, joined with other guilds, unions, studios, networks, businesses and others with an interest in reducing the impact of unchecked digital theft, fought for this legislation because we believe that the works created by DGA members – the films and television shows that embody our country’s unique creativity – are worthy of being protected from foreign criminal profiteers who exist solely to illegally and knowingly sell or distribute works that they had absolutely no role in financing or creating.
Unfortunately, the myths spread by the bills’ opponents succeeded in clouding the debate to such a degree that people came to rely on, and act on, limited information and the scare tactics behind them. While most people acted in good faith based on what they believed to be the truth, added to this mix were also purposely intimidating campaigns and messages such as boycotts of the bill’s supporters, the blackout of Wikipedia and other sites, personal attacks, and finally the hacking attacks that took down the websites of the Justice Department and the Library of Congress. Combined, civil debate became impossible as did any legislative action.
So what is next?
The fight to protect our members’ creativity, innovation and the works that they create has always been the primary mission of this Guild. As has always been true, a difficult fight does not deter us from the battle. The past months have not been without lessons that we are seriously examining before moving forward. We are well aware, as we have said before, that we are currently part of a complex and important debate about the future, not just of the Internet but also of creativity, the American economy, free expression and a civil society. We welcome this debate and hope that a new tone can be set – one in which our advocacy for this legislation is not twisted into an implication that we support censorship, and one in which website attacks, blacklists, blackouts and intimidation are tactics of the past. We hope that the next round of this discussion does not pit the creativity and innovation of our members against the innovators and creators of other industries. We hope that the outcome will be an Internet in which professional artists, creators and innovators can thrive and one in which blatant theft and disregard for intellectual property are not condoned.
DGA members have not only embraced the future – they have often helped usher it in. That is as true now as it was 75 years ago. We can welcome what the Internet makes possible while we can also remain committed to protecting our members’ ability to earn a living doing work they love.