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Former U.S. Sen. and new Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America Chris Dodd speaks at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, March 29, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
You could say that it's the great business question of our era. Certainly it is in California. Why can't Silicon Valley, seat of the tech industry, and Hollywood, capital of the entertainment business, join forces and create a juggernaut of technotainment that will establish the Golden State as the most important place on Earth for innovation and global media?
In theory, it should be a no-brainer. But in practice it's a case of colliding business models. Big Content has built up its ownership of media over the course of a century. It's not going to share the goodies without claiming its cut.
Big Tech, on the other hand, wants all that content to be free, free, free. Chris Anderson pretty well laid it all out, in detail horrifying to Hollywood, in 2009, in his aptly titled book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price." Why? Because the ability to fragment and share content is a critical piece of Silicon Valley's overall business model. Users need to be able to do this by the millions if not billions, so that various Web companies and appmakers can sell ads against the — wait for it — free labor of those users.
Opponents of this model argue that it will obliterate copyright and encourage piracy like you can't believe. Big Tech responds by insisting that strictly enforcing copyright, or expanding existing copyright laws, will have a chilling effect on innovation. I think that's a red herring, but the tech industry is certainly entitled to make the argument.
And Hollywood is entitled to fire up its very sophisticated marketing and PR machine. For example, the MPAA has Chris Dodd in its hire as its main lobbyist. He recently commented on the debate at CinemaCon in Las Vegas:
“Some of the world’s most brilliant technologists work in the audio/visual industry, devising new ways to bring artists’ imaginations to life,” Dodd said. “And, conversely, some of the world’s foremost creative geniuses work in the tech industry, designing and building products that are as beautiful as they are useful — remember Steve Jobs.”
I think Dodd meant the dreamy acid-tripping Bob Dylan-loving calligraphy buff Steve Jobs, the guy who gave us "desktop publishing," not the "later" Steve who parked in the handicapped spot and screamed at his phone and dressed in rags.
But whatever. You have to consider his comments in light of the defeat of SOPA/PIPA, the online anti-piracy legislation that, after a promising start, went down in flames in Congress after the Internet crowd got its act together and did things like...blackout Wikipedia for an entire day, curtailing access to the sum of all human knowledge.
Dodd talks a good game, but from where he sits, the endgame — now postponed as SOPA and PIPA have been pushed to the legislative back burner, but foregrounded by another bill, CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act), that focuses more on security than copyright — involves Hollywood being empowered to wall off its content from the inevitable marauding of the increasingly wealthy Silicon Valley pirates.
Hollywood is hidebound, while Silicon Valley, unfortunately, can tend to be fairly arrogant in staking an ownership claim to the future. But beyond that, you can see the core problem: Hollywood's business is built on ownership, while Silicon Valley's is built on openness. It's going to take quite a bit of work to bridge that gap, once the post-SOPA/PIPA wounds have been licked.