If, in the aftermath of the Stop Online Piracy Act/Prevent IP Act (SOPA/PIPA) battle, you thought that only the most intense financiers of Silicon Valley continue to obsess over threats to the "open Internet, we give you...Harvey Weinstein! The Hollywood Reporter catches up with the outspoken producer in England, where he took the occasion of addressing the BFI London Film Festival to absolutely lay into Big Tech.
But first, he heaped praise on recently dethroned French President Nicholas Sarkozy (who awarded Weinstein the prestigious Légion d'honneur prior to leaving office):
"Whether you like his politics or not, this law was good," Weinstein said, "because people are disincentified to steal."
He said the results also could be seen in a country where 260 French movies were made last year, and difficult funding propositions, like the €14 million ($18 million) black-and-white silent film The Artist, could find people to fund it.
"You get a robust local industry from it," he said.
Weinstein's speech was full of humor and barbed observations.
"I love it when these Internet dudes say to me, ‘Hey man, we just want to be 'content neutral,' " Weinstein noted. "Next time, I'll say, 'Sure, I'll get my tie-dye shirt and come and sit in your billion dollar mansion in San Francisco or Silicon Valley for a while, soak it up.'"
Game on, techboys! Get ready for a Weinstein-Sarkozy "French" solution to the Internet piracy crisis. Although I'm not sure if "disincentified" is actually a word (Disincentivized, perhaps?). Well, to borrow a line from Paul Ryan, it's unclear whether Weinstein always has full control of what comes out of his mouth.
The ongoing war between Hollywood and Silicon Valley over the future of content ownership has died down somewhat. Hollywood and Big Content lost the latest battle when SOPA/PIPA went down in flames after a massive, rapid mobilization by the likes of Wikipedia, which went black for a day in protest of the legislation.
And now the early snows have filled the mountain passes and both sides have retreated to their respective redoubts in Northern and Southern California (and points East), to develop strategies for the forthcoming campaign season, when new battles will be fought in the corridors of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (And in fact, based on a few conversations I've had post-SOPA, Washington could ironically be where the adults are to be found in the uniquely California spat.)
Weinstein, amid the saber-rattling and bluster, proposed an interesting way forward for Hollywood that doesn't entail the preservation of its increasingly indefensible businss model. Long-term, Big Tech wins. Short-term Big Content would very much like to preserve its status quo, whch has enabled no shortage of Hollywood folks to buy their own mansions. Unfortunately, Silicon Valley is determined to disrupt the way that Hollywood has done business. And it has time, as well as consumer preferences, on its side.
Hollywood could follow Weinstein's advice (if you like your advice delivered like Joe Frazier once delivered blows to sides of beef) to quit trying to hit home runs and simply crank out more movies, aiming in some respects to emulate, say, the proliferation of apps in the Apple App Store (I've talked to some right-thinking venture capitalists who kinda sorta make this case). Of course, while that might be fine for France, it's unlikely to gain much success in Hollywood. Fortunes are not made on hundreds of enchanting "little" movies.
There are other factors at play here — including Hollywood's ability to grow its old-school theatrical revenues by leaps and bounds in the developing world, and its investment in streaming content on its own terms online — but Weinstein's comments, delivered in the way that only Harvey can, prove that although the battles have (for now) ended, the war is still on everyone's mind.