Hollywood Vs. Silicon Valley: California Industries Spar Over Internet Piracy In southern California, Hollywood howls over "piracy" and is pushing for legislation. In the north, Silicon Valley cries foul over what it sees as restrictions on a free and open Internet. The most pressing issue for both may be the huge sums of money each stands to lose.
NPR logo

A California Civil War Over Internet Piracy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/147294229/147300839" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A California Civil War Over Internet Piracy

A California Civil War Over Internet Piracy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/147294229/147300839" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

There is a civil war going on in California. It's the south versus the north, Hollywood versus Silicon Valley. The cause: intellectual property rights. One of the highest profile battles was fought last month when large Internet sites, such as Wikipedia, staged an online blackout. They were protesting anti-piracy bills in Congress. Silicon Valley won that battle for now. The legislation is on hold.

But as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the conflict is far from over.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: In the south, Hollywood, there are the people making their livings off of music, movies and TV. Southerner Gavin Polone is an executive producer on such shows as "The Gilmore Girls" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

GAVIN POLONE: What is the key element is that a movie or a television show or a song or a book is actually someone's property.

SYDELL: And to Polone and other southerners, taking that property without permission is a criminal act. That's why Hollywood has used the law to try and shut down the revolving door of sites that traffic in music, movies, television and film, from Napster to Megaupload.

But up north in Silicon Valley, in the hub of technological innovation and newly minted millionaires and billionaires, techies like Tim O'Reilly have a different view.

TIM O'REILLY: I'm a creature of a technology world where you accept a high level of competition, and you don't have a lot of respect for businesses protecting their turf except by innovating.

SYDELL: O'Reilly is founder of a publishing company that's part of O'Reilly Media. It publishes technology-oriented e-books on topics like how to get the most out of your iPad 2 or how to program iOS 5.

O'REILLY: If things are being pirated, people want them. And I would far rather have one of my products - discover that it's highly pirated than that it isn't because what that tells me is a lot of people want it.

SYDELL: In fact, O'Reilly says a study of his customers proved that many paid later for what they at first took.

O'REILLY: We found that the people who pirated were actually also the people who paid us more. They had a budget.

SYDELL: But e-books are also advertisements for O'Reilly's other products: tech classes and business conferences. Less than 50 percent of his company's income comes from e-books. Making a movie is another kind of project altogether. Take an independent film like "Suing the Devil" starring Malcolm McDowell as the devil himself.


MALCOLM MCDOWELL: (as The Devil) How many people are going to sue me and blame me because they can't get their act together, huh?

SYDELL: Tim Chey directed the film, and he knows exactly what it cost to make.

TIM CHEY: Each camera cost 150,000 with all the setups and everything, so we're talking 300,000 just on the camera. Then we have sound, we have special effects.

SYDELL: And the list goes on. Chey has a law degree from Harvard, but he's not rich and he doesn't spend his time thinking about business models. He and his colleagues put their innovations into their films.

CHEY: We do it for the art. We do it because we want to tell our stories, express our stories. I, as a filmmaker, am not in it for the money.

SYDELL: But he's got to pay his bills. So when he saw his film up on the Internet for free before it was even released...

CHEY: It can make you cry as a filmmaker. It can make you cry. I mean, all of that work.

SYDELL: But what made him want to take legal action was when he asked the website Pirate Bay to take down his film.

CHEY: The guy wrote back and said this: We've never taken any of our movies off of our site. Why would we take yours off?

SYDELL: Appropriation of intellectual property has always existed. The Internet just makes it easier, says Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger Network, a company that runs a group of popular sites featuring amateur humor like lolcats, funny captions over pictures of cats. Huh says content creators and the government need to start thinking differently.

BEN HUH: It's almost like we're entering Prohibition again, where the public perception towards copyright no longer matches the legal perception of copyright.

SYDELL: Like most techies, he starts talking about business models and giving customers what they want to minimize the number of people who steal. If people don't want to go to the movie theater to see the latest film, Huh says they should be able to see it at home legally.

HUH: And I'll pay you extra, so I don't have to schlep my butt on the snow, sit with a bunch of teenagers who talk behind me and then use their cell phone. Why does that not exist?

SYDELL: In the end, these two industries may need each other more than they currently realize. This year, Google's YouTube commissioned professionals in Hollywood and New York to create channels on the site because the folks at Google didn't have the talent or expertise.

Southerner Gavin Polone thinks, eventually, the northerners will start to see the situation differently as they see how much it costs to make high-quality content.

POLONE: They'll be the same as these media companies that they're rallying against right now. And they will also start to look at this very expensive property as property, and they're not going to want to have it stolen from them.

SYDELL: But both sides continue to wage war using the weapons they know best, whether it's the courts or the Internet.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.