The MPA or the Global Diplomacy of Hollywood Majors

Article  by  Alexandre BOHAS  •  Published 29.07.2011  •  Updated 21.03.2012
With a budget of over $80 million, the MPA is responsible for the global diplomacy of the seven majors, which earned a combined $23.3 billion at the box office in 2010 - playing a key role in the reign of Hollywood's "world cinema".

Summary

The Motion Picture Association of America did not nurture specific goals in the international sphere when it was first founded in 1922. Instituted in 1934 and led by Will H. Hays, the organization — called the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America at the time — wanted to defend the U.S. motion picture industry against criticism that accused it of corrupting people’s moral standards. In this respect, it was led to implement a strict self-censorship code[+] NoteI will not distinguish in this article between the two organisations, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Motion Picture Association, which I will refer to as “the MPA”.X [1]. Now, with a budget of more than $80 million, this trust is in charge of worldwide diplomacy for the seven major studios, whose box office revenues amounted to $23.3 billion in 2011 NoteCf., MPAA, Theatrical Market Statistics 2010, 2011, available online; Laurent Horwitch, “Studios Cut 20 Mil $ from MPAA”, The Wrap, 4 March 2011.X [2]. But its lobbying quickly adopted an international scope with the success of its productions and protectionist reactions that it encountered, notably in Europe. While the studios are socioeconomically integrated in national sectors in terms of production and distribution activities, the MPA is the body that represents them politically. Its agenda is dominated by the expansion of Hollywood “world cinema”, which is mainly threatened by the movement of cultural diversity – and above all, illegal copying.

This article analyzes how this representative organization protects the supremacy of its members while instituting a Hollywood “world cinema” – an audiovisual sector “world economy” centered around Hollywood[+] NoteCharles-Albert Michalet, Le Drôle de drame du cinéma mondial. Une industrie culturelle menacée, Paris, 1987, La Découverte/FEN.X [3]. The MPA participates in the “structural” and “intransitive” power of major studios. Building favourable arrangements and conditions for their members to prevail, it gives them the “chance to be obeyed”[+] NoteBy “structural power”, I am referring to the notion defined by Susan Strange, itself an adaptation of the difference established by Max Weber. Gerhard Goehler’s “intransitive power” develops this perspective in greater depth. Gerhard Goehler, “Constitution and Use of Power” in Power in Contemporary Politics. Theories, Practices, Globalizations, edited by Philip Cerny, Mark Haugaard & Howard Lentner, London, Sage, 2000, pp. 41-58; Strange, Susan (1994) States and Markets. 2nd ed., Londres, Pinter, 1994.X [4].

The U.S. Government, the MPA’s Interstate Growth Engine

The United States was quick to support the international development of its motion picture industry. As early as the 1920s and 1940s, they strived to find new outlets[+] NoteNicole Vulser, “L’alliance de l’économie et de la diplomatie américaines en Europe”, Le Monde, 27 July 2005, p. 25; Jens Ulff-Moller, Hollywood's Film Wars With France: Film-Trade Diplomacy and the Emergence of the French Film Quota Policy, Rochester, University of Rochester Press, 2001.X [5]. For example, in the 1940s, the Blum-Byrnes agreements initially made provisions for the end of the system of support for the French sector in exchange for the help of the Marshall Plan. All the same, American diplomacy supported the majors during their blockade of Great Britain, which wished to maintain its quotas policies. More recently, U.S. representatives fought hard against the goal of cultural diversity during GATS and MAI negotiations, and most recently at UNESCO. Moreover, it is worth noting that its international distribution as a cartel was even legalized with the Webb-Pomerane Export Trade Act..

Major studios are tightly associated with the decision-making process for U.S. foreign trade policy. Whether the relations at stake are multilateral or bilateral, they participate through the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations and the Advisory Committees. Regarding intellectual property, their central position has been institutionalized with their adhesion to the IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance). Alongside the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), the AAP (Association of American publishers), the BSA (Business Software Alliance), the ESA (Entertainment Software Association), the IFTA and the NMPA (National Music Publishers Association) – encompassing more than 1500 companies – this alliance has defended the interests of copyright industries since 1984.


Logo of the International Intellectual Property Alliance.

In recent decades, this organization has successfully tried to convince public authorities to protect the copyright industries. It brought about the inclusion of non-respect of copyright in section 301 of the U.S. Trade Law as “unfair trade practices”, placing the issue on the American agenda. In 1988, Congress voted the Special 301 amendment, which ranked countries not protecting copyright with the creation of the “Watch List” and the “Priority Watch List”. In this respect, sections 301 and 306 foresee in-depth analysis in order to investigate the legislation of states on these lists; incriminated states may be subject to sanctions. These successive modifications reinforced the position held by sectoral representatives in the decision-making process, which led to the ratification of the Berne convention in 1989 by the United States, which had signed it in 1971.

As early as 1985, the IIPA published its first report, which analyzed losses due to piracy, focusing notably on ten countries where intellectual property is overridden. Additionally, every year since 1990, it has published a study on the contribution of copyright sectors to the national GDP, which underlines their increasing role in the growth of the superpower[+] NoteAccording to the IIPA, in 2007 intellectual property industries stricto sensu represented 6.4% of GDP, or $636 billion. Cf., Stephen E. Siwek, Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy, Washington, Economists Incorporated, 2009, pp. 4-6, 10.X [6]. All of these reports are taken into account by the legislative committees and top executives in charge of trade, while their wide-scale diffusion makes public opinion sensitive to the subject. As a result, media firms take part in the constitution of trade policy in shaping perceptions of decision-makers and the general public.

From the first report, a number of retaliatory measures have been taken against countries. For instance, in 1985 South Korea – which, at the time, provided no protection for American exports – suffered such coercion; the following year, it passed a law on this subject. In 1990, Thailand implemented a law, as Congress had classified this country among the “Priority Watch Countries”. Similarly, after having been designated as such, China accepted – in 1995 – a plan of action to avoid trade sanctions that would have amounted to more than two billion dollars. In the aftermath of this American-Chinese agreement, Beijing closed more than fifteen factories producing pirated compact discs, consequently reducing its world exports of illegal goods.

More recently, Ukraine saw coercive measures taken against it from 2002 to 2005. It was taken out of the Generalized Preferences System in August 2001, and in June 2002, its exports to the United States began to suffer from prohibitive tariffs valued at 75 million dollars. Today, there are 12 countries on the “Priority Watch” list, including China, India and Russia, and 29 others are classified as “Priority Foreign Countries”[+] NoteCf., IIPA, 2010 Special 301 Report, 2010, available online ; Brice Pedroletti, “La Chine devient la plate-forme mondiale d’exportation des DVD frauduleux”, Le Monde, 27 July 2005, p. 20. For more information on Special 301 and 306 procedures and the role of the U.S. Trade Represenative and Congress. X [7].

However, behind this seeming symbiosis between U.S foreign policy and the MPA, divergences in their policies occur. Indeed, the privileged position occupied by the Hollywood association in Washington must be relativized by the importance of the position reserved for representatives of other industries. Its weight thus depends on its strategy of lobbying and its political capital compared with that of other economic domains. Several times, it has been faced with the refusal of federal instances. For example, confronted with the resistance of France and Canada, Bill Clinton decided to exclude audiovisual domains from the agreement during the Uruguay Round, provoking the ire of Hollywood. Nevertheless, major studios opposed other American interests in 1999 during the negotiations of the Korean-American treaty of investment. They conditioned their support – at the risk of the failure of the whole agreement – on the short-term suppression of Korean protectionism in motion picture matters. For this reason, the President of the Industry and Commerce Chamber in Seoul, Jeffrey Jones, wanted to keep this item out of the negotiations, a measure to which Hollywood was violently opposed. The Korean government finally agreed to reform the support system of its cinema industry, notably reducing its quotas by half[+] NoteMark Schilling, “MPA Reject Korean Aim to Please”, Hollywood Reporter, (1222), 20-26 Aug. 1999.X [8]
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The Global Policies of Hollywood Companies

Major studios occupy a paramount position in the fields of media, new technology and telecommunications. The complex interactions between firms belonging to these sectors need to be analyzed by taking into account the intervention of states. The global scope of interfirm politics corresponds to the reconfiguration of socio-economic and cultural spaces in which states have lost their prominence. In recent decades, deregulation, technological transformations, and spatio-temporal changes have led to the emergence of global operators with varied productions. Evolving in interconnected domains, these firms are led to pursue consensual, friendly or conflictual relations, the stakes of which consist in the structuration of national legislations, intersectoral practices and consumption behaviour.

The MPA has established particularly close links with representatives of the music industry, represented by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the IFPI (International Federation Phonographic Industry). These content producers take legal action at the national and international levels[+] NoteDon Groves, “MPA Sues China Pirates”, Variety, 15 Feb. 2004.X [9]. In this respect, the music sector – affected earlier than the audiovisual sector – initiated highly mediatized cases, the purposes of which were equally repressive and dissuasive. In 2002, in conjunction with the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), the MPA and the RIAA, it prosecuted websites such as Kazaa, Grokster and more recently, the famous cyberlocker, Hotfile, in the name of copyright respect[+] Note“La MPAA porte plainte contre Hotfile”, Le Monde, 14 February 2011.X [10]. These cases took on a global dimension as they dealt with practices undertaken in the transnational sphere by worldwide networks of anonymous individuals.

Furthermore, issues of copyright raised by technological innovations have led the MPA and the RIAA to exert pressure on the telecommunication and information industries, with which they have formed highly interdependent sectors. Their relations have remained conflictual, since they seek to limit the possibility for users to copy. Indeed, Internet providers and the computer industry do not want to displease their customers, all the more so as their market is highly competitive; such decisions could be fatal for them. In recent years, legal prosecutions against illegal online content diffusers, such as the streaming site Zediva, have increased since the Internet has turned out to represent a booming and highly profitable market for movies[+] Note“Zediva, le service de location de DVD qui ennuie Hollywood”, Le Monde, 6 April 2011; “Unkind Unwind”, The Economist, 19 March 2011, pp. 60-62.X [11].
 

Screenshot of Zediva website.

Since the 1990s,the MPA has come to deal directly with national governments. It is represented on every continent to face challenges such as the acceleration of globalization, the individualization of audiovisual consumption and the limits of state structures – but above all, the emergence of powerful non-state actors. Oftentimes, the latter threatens the prosperity of studios in constituting illegal industries of recording, reproduction and distribution. Their transnational and mafia-related aspect makes their control difficult and the global policy of the MPA all the more necessary.

Such international involvement is not new for this body. The MPDDA had already acted on the diplomatic stage with actions such as the blockade of French markets in the 1920s and British ones after the Second World War[+] NoteIan Jarvie, Hollywood’s Overseas Campaign: The North Atlantic Movie Trade. 1920-1950, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992; Ulff-Moller, op. cit.X [12]. These crises were generally solved with the intervention of states. While the MPA opposed protectionism erstwhile, it has been led today to collaborate with foreign authorities, benefiting from its predominant position in the audiovisual sector. Illustratively, in China, with the minister of Culture and the Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the MPA negotiated the setting up of American-Chinese cooperation in order to protect intellectual property. Signed in mid-July 2005, this agreement foresees regular gatherings between public authorities and the Hollywood organization. During the inaugural session, held in Nanjing, capital of the province of Jiangsu, the Chinese delegates met Micheal C. Ellis, Senior Vice President and Asia Pacific Director of the MPA[+] NoteClifford Coonan, “Org Planning China Antipiracy Push”, Variety, 1 September 2005; Clifford Coonan, “D.C.’s Piracy Barbs Find Mark in China”, Variety, 15 February 2006.X [13].

In this respect, the MPA can rely on the support of national centers of production, since the latter also suffer from the non-respect of intellectual property. With their help, it supervises the implementation of international and national law. Furthermore, the solidarity that it displays with workers of the industries allows it to intensify pressure exerted on governments. Defining itself as the spearhead in the fight for the defense of intellectual property, it coordinates the action of more than thirty national associations that support its fight in the gathering of invaluable information and lobbying resources within the government and public opinion. Instead of appearing as the offshoot of American majors, these demands seem to come from the national production industry. In China, it has relations with the China Film Copyright Protection Association in the domains of lobbying and information exchange in order to promote intellectual property, the non-respect of which has turned out to be devastating for the national cinema industry[+] NoteClifford Coonan, “MPA, China Org to Share Piracy Info”, Variety, 3 March 2006.X [14].

Furthermore, the association can rely on socio-economic links that major studios strike up with motion picture industries during productions directed outside the United States. In Australia, the MPA launched a joint venture called the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft hand-in-hand with the distributors. All of this to say that private actors play a crucial role in power relations between the MPA and the states on a global level.

Additionally, the actions of the MPA are not restricted to repressive operations. On the contrary, it seeks to modify sectoral practices and consumption behaviour in encouraging a Hollywood conception of the motion picture. American companies promote motion pictures as entertainment. Indeed, they devote enormous resources to information campaigns geared for foreign institutions dedicated to the training of new talents[+] NoteFor example, “MPA and APSA Announce Renewal of Film Fund in Support of Asia Pacific Filmmakers”, MPA Press Release, 25th April 2011, available online.X [15]. This opposes a counter-model in the tradition of “auteurism”, by which films are fully considered to be artworks, to the detriment of their industrial dimensions. As a result, these initiatives may be viewed as an attempt to thwart cultural diversity in foreign sectors by castigating the legitimacy of this objective, for which Canada and France have turned out to be the standard-bearers. In other words, it frames a dominant discourse that goes against the cultural diversity argument.

The multiplication of blockbusters illustrates a rise of the commercial conception in Europe. Constituting mere replicas of Hollywood productions, they rely on the star system, marketing and expected narrations. The diffusion of this cinema ideology may also be illustrated by courses given in European schools, about which Screen International states, “no longer can the continent’s practitioners be accused of prioritizing culture over commerce. This new generation is fast becoming as commercially savvy as any Hollywood super executive”[+] Note“The Business of Europe”, Screen International, 27 January 2006, pp. 25-27. On studio investments in national cinema, cf., Nolwenn Mingant, Hollywood. A la conquête du monde? Marchés, stratégies, influences, Paris, CNRS Editions, 2010, p. 183, 187.X [16]. Yet, this American way of considering cinema does not suit the objective of cultural diversity. If future generations of workers only conceive of their creations as entertainment, how can a special system breaking with the principle of free trade in this domain be justified? Only its artistic and identitary aspects legitimize the maintaining of quotas and subsidy systems.

Pressed by sectoral upheavals caused by technological innovations, the MPA wants to reform consumer practices; according to Jerry Pierce, Vice-President of Universal Pictures, “because of downloadable music, consumers have been trained to feel comfortable getting content for free, which is hurting the film business”[+] NoteIan Mohr, “MPAA Eyes New Anti-Piracy Plan”, Hollywood Reporter, 25 March 2004, p. 8 (25).X [17]. Indeed, beyond the suppression of criminal networks, mediatized cases such as police operations incite the public to respect copyright. In this respect, legal prosecutions intervene after long and widespread campaigns to raise public awareness of the noxious effects of piracy and the repressive measures to which fraudulent users expose themselves[+] Note“MPAA Targets Online Piracy”, Variety, 21 June 2004, p. 4. X [18]. The majors are confronted with a dilemma. In order to maintain their dominant position, they must constrain their users without provoking discontent, which implies a properly-understood, if poorly-accepted, repression, based on a shared sense of what is just and legal – and above all, what is not. They want to participate in the edification of a consensus in the ways of using new technologies.

What’s more, the rhetoric of the MPA, which applies the terms “pirate” and “piracy” indiscriminately to apply to computer users burning DVDs, peer-to-peer downloaders and industrial mafias diffusing films on a massive scale, reveals its desire to force ordinary viewers to modify their behaviour. All the same, these companies encourage behaviour via means of incitement such as funds rewarding people who enable criminals to be arrested. These clearly constitute instruments in the fight for the respect of intellectual property, as expressed by Jack Valenti when he stated that Hollywood companies “will — through technological magic, government intervention all over the world, educational and other persuasive programs — bring this [piracy] under tolerable levels of control”[+] NoteGregg Kilday, “H’wood Basks in Record Int’l Take”, Hollywood Reporter, 23-29 March 2004, p. 1 (77).X [19].

The state-Hollywood entanglement at the global level turns out to be the key to the success of the association of motion picture companies, since, as Fernand Braudel asserts, “capitalism only triumphs when it identifies with the state, when it is the state”[+] NoteCf., Fernand Braudel, La Dynamique du capitalisme, Paris, Arthaud, 1985, p. 68.X [20]. The MPA largely overrides the simple public/private, state/business partnership which some highlight. Concerning the kingly functions, these “hybrid” combinations correspond to configurations in which major studios are at the center of the international coordination with their lobbying, information resources and capacity for action. Preceding and accompanying their expansion, the MPA is involved in a dense web formed with industries, governments and workers of the sector. This key position allows it to impose itself as necessary, which confers upon it a structural power in the audiovisual sector and beyond. We will now turn our attention to its contribution to the deployment of the Hollywood world economy with the imposition of legal and economic conditions in favour of free trade and intellectual property.
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The Legal-Police structuration of World Cinema

The predominance of Hollywood is based as much on legal-political arrangements as on social ones that the MPA has to put in place. Accordingly, it strives to structure markets and forge new practices. The MPA globally shapes audiovisual sectors in order to allow its member companies to prevail. This implies a considerable amount of lobbying during interstate negotiations and continual relations with governments.

The violation of copyright does not constitute a new phenomenon. Studies show that since the 1920s and 1930s, distributors have been confronted with the disappearance of feature film revenues. However, the diffusion of technology and the rise of home video have made copying easier and more large-scale[+] NoteKerry Segrave, Piracy in the Motion Picture Industry, Jefferson (NC), McFarland, 2003; Colin Brown, “MPEAA Piracy War Seizes Record Spoils”, Screen International, 27 March 1992, p. 6.X [21]. Moreover, the end of the Cold War, the intensification of globalization and the soaring of transnational fluxes have opened up perspectives of substantial profits while, at the same time, state capacities of control have decreased. However, the world cinema industry is based on free trade and, above all, intellectual property, the non-respect of which threatens the prosperity and expansion of the industry. It should be underlined that the affirmation of a hegemon – that is the United States – is of lesser importance than the decisive action of conglomerates in solving this intellectual property issue and towards the socio-economic building of international law[+] NoteSusan K. Sell, “Multinational Corporations as Agents of Change: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights”, in: Anne C. Cutler, Virginia Haufler, Toney Porter, Private Authority and International Affairs, Albany (NY), SUNY, 1999, pp. 169-197.X [22].

We have already stated that the MPA hand-in-hand with the IIPA act in the sphere of intergovernmental activity as adviser and lobbyist, developing close ties with the diplomacy of the superpower. In this respect, several members of the IIPA even participated in the American delegations during the conferences prepared by the World Intellectual Property Organization, which led to the conclusion of three agreements: two treaties at the end of 1996 on digital technology and the internet, and a declaration on electronic trade in late May 1998. Within the national arena, the Hollywood association engineered support form governments. It tightened links with other companies, such as pharmaceutical corporations, which are represented within the Intellectual Property Committee. They were particularly involved in the preparation as well as in the negotiations of the agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Rights, or TRIPS, in order to satisfy their world interests[+] NoteCf., Susan Sell, Christopher May, Intellectual Property Rights: A Critical History, Boulder, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006; Susan Sell, Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.X [23]. Although this category of rights has attracted attention since the nineteenth century, notably with the creation of WIPO, multinational corporations have lately succeeded in linking its respect with the framework of the World Trade Organization. As a result, they assent to a commercial conception limiting the state margins of manoeuvre and consider copyright unidimensionnally. All the same, representative organizations such as the MPA have considered most favourably the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement project. In case of application, the projected agreement would give extended power to authorities in charge of enforcing copyright, notably on the Internet[+] Note“MPAA Commends Initiative to Launch Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, MPAA Press release, 23 October 2007; Alexandre Bohas, “Une construction mondiale de la rareté. Le projet ACTA d’accord commercial sur la contrefaçon”, Passage au crible, (22), 22 May 2010, available online.X [24].

In the field of trade, transnational companies have benefited from the structural leverage of the superpower on the liberalization of audiovisual domains. Since the failure of the GATT Uruguay Round in 1994, the United States has launched an aggressive diplomatic policy in favour of free trade and the respect of copyrights, especially toward states which benefit from a privileged access to the U. S. market[+] Note22 agreements have been concluded in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and the Pacific. Signed for determined periods, their extension is accompanied by a renegotiation of the agreement concerning its impact and ends, thus granting Washington lobbyists considerable space. Cf. the web site.X [25]. The development of this bilateral action undermines the multilateral initiatives of the movement for cultural diversity. Indeed, a heterogeneous group led by France, Canada and many non-governmental organizations began negotiations at UNESCO with a view to the adoption of a special system concerning films. In 2001 and October 2005, respectively, the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and the Convention in Protection and the Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions were enthusiastically adopted. Nevertheless, although the convention foresees a constraining legal mechanism, one can have doubts about its effective scope in cases where a state has already concluded a free trade agreement with the American government[+] NoteJosepha Laroche, Alexandre Bohas, Canal+ et les majors américaines. Une vision désenchantée du cinéma-monde, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2008, p. 12.X [26]. As a consequence, one can observe the considerable position of non-state interests in the promotion of intellectual property and free trade. The political and legal framing can be seen as a “global constitutionalism” since it contributes to the lasting reproduction of audiovisual capital on the global level[+] NoteStephen Gill, “The Constitution of Global Capitalism”, Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, 14-18 March, in Los Angeles, Calif., 2000.X [27].

Studios are equally involved in the protection of their films and television programs during both the production and distribution phases, which manifests itself in lobbying in favour of laws and repressive raids. If the maintaining of legal-economic structures in Europe or Japan turns out to be difficult, this proves to be even harder at the margins of world cinema. In these territories, the activity of the MPA is crucial in the formation of a market in order to allow studios to prosper. First, with its position in Washington, it exerts pressure on local authorities in the manner of an “advocacy network” to pass laws and implement them[+] NoteMargaret Keck, Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1998.X [28]. Its strength lies in this continual lobbying of each government. It also encourages repressive crackdowns against counterfeiters by collaborating with local police during investigations. The pressure Hollywood exerts on political bodies is decisive for the pursuit of illegal organizations. Police operations against the “pirates” are achieved in close coordination with the agencies of the MPA. Regularly, it brandishes the threat of official reports in favour of tariff sanctions but also the threat of lodging a charge with national and international jurisdictions. This capacity for action on policies is all the more considerable as these countries wish to export towards the West and be part of the World Trade Organization. In addition, the MPA watches over the implementation of laws in launching large legal battles, already mentioned, in order to force new rules to be respected, and above all, to suppress legal loopholes which often benefit fraudulent practices[+] Note“MPAA Files New lawsuits”, Film Journal International, 108 (3), March 2005, p. 8.X [29].

These investigations proved to be concentrated in Asia, an area in which illegal copying represents a shortfall of 1.2 billion dollars and which is the source of a substantial amount of illicit copies. On this continent, the association’s action led to 36,000 inquiries in 2007 while it assisted public authorities in 13,000 raids, which resulted in the seizing of 31 million illegal optical discs, 40 disc production lines and 6,400 optical copiers. In addition, following these operations 10,000 judicial actions were initiated[+] NoteCf., Anti-Piracy Fact Sheet. Asia-Pacific Region, 2008, available onthe website of the MPA.X [30]. In late 2006-early 2007, the Trident Operation included 1,874 raids in 12 countries in the Asian-Pacific region. Many vast anti-counterfeiting interventions have been organized transnationally, which constitutes the appropriate answer to illegal groups operating on the Internet. For instance, the Fastlink operation was undertaken over 24 hours in more than 10 countries, against 100 members belonging to the “Warez” network, known under the names of Fairlight, Kalisto, Echelon or Class. Its success comes from the close collaboration with representatives of multiple industries, including the MPA, the RIAA, the ESA and the BSA[+] NoteBrooks Boliek, “Pirates Face World of Hurt”, Hollywood Reporter, 23-25 April 2004, p. 1 (25).X [31]. It should be noted that the MPA traced multinational production and distribution chains by closely analysing the digital footprints of compact discs[+] NoteInterview with John Malcom, MPA Director of international “anti-piracy” operations, August 2005.X [32]. In other words, it plays a strategic role that is complementary to police activity. The structuring role of the MPA reminds one how much markets remain “embedded” in a particular environment upon which the expansion of transnational firms depends. This is based as much on political and legal dimensions as on socio-economic ones – dimensions that need to be established in order to allow prosperity. This laborious work of institutions is ascribed to the representative of the studios.
 
Illegal DVD store in Kunming, Yunnan. Photo credits: Hector Garcia / Flickr

Confronted with a globalizing Hollywood, the Motion Picture Association has transformed its action into transnational diplomacy. It occupies a central position in the audiovisual sectors, assuming a substantial role in the plurilevel governance of world-cinema. The vast network of relations that it maintains with all kinds of actors, from companies to other sector lobbies, state and international organizations, leads it to impose itself as central to the audiovisual sectors. This power is exerted through a process that cannot be considered to be a system given the plurality of actors and levels involved in the sectors. In addition, a kind of close interdependence links states and the MPA in many ways. This leads to envisaging the MPA as an actor equal to the state. The way that it strives to shape foreign markets and find new outlets for its members can be compared with an organisation producing general rules. It substantially shapes the latter by cooperating with and exerting pressure on governments, legislators and the police, while it frames consumers’ behaviour within markets. In other words, its multilevel and multinodal action are manifested both discursively and materially. Indeed, it ensures the success of Hollywood by the structuration of foreign sectors as well as the diffusion of practices and specific values. It acts through complex relations of coercion, persuasion and cooperation that it has with states, sectoral organizations, companies and individuals. While it retains the support of the United States, the transnational activity of its members has obliged it to reconsider its place in American cinema.


This research also leads to the shedding of new light on the difficulties the MPA is experiencing in maintaining the world economy of motion pictures. Although national quota systems still constitute an impediment to the power of its members, nowadays the real challenge remains the violation of copyright. This threatens the predominance of major studios since it questions their profitability and their world expansion, affecting all markets. Their involvement in new markets, the evolution of technology and the globalization of fluxes gave a major edge to transnational counterfeiting and illegal copying networks, which the MPA is aggressively tackling with trials and police interventions in many countries. But the other dimension of its action consists in changing – at the individual level – global practices of illegal mass consumption. Consumers detain the technology and the ability to violate intellectual property. The emergence of practices such as file-sharing, websites diffusing illegal content, and DVD burning are made possible by the individualization of computer technology, the Internet and the learning of ordinary users. These types of crimes turn out to be as uncontrollable as organized counterfeiting. At present, in the Western world and emerging countries alike, all of these phenomena raise concerns for Hollywood.

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Photo credit: MPAA's logo.
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  • 1. I will not distinguish in this article between the two organisations, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Motion Picture Association, which I will refer to as “the MPA”.
  • 2.
  • 3. Charles-Albert Michalet, Le Drôle de drame du cinéma mondial. Une industrie culturelle menacée, Paris, 1987, La Découverte/FEN.
  • 4. By “structural power”, I am referring to the notion defined by Susan Strange, itself an adaptation of the difference established by Max Weber. Gerhard Goehler’s “intransitive power” develops this perspective in greater depth. Gerhard Goehler, “Constitution and Use of Power” in Power in Contemporary Politics. Theories, Practices, Globalizations, edited by Philip Cerny, Mark Haugaard & Howard Lentner, London, Sage, 2000, pp. 41-58; Strange, Susan (1994) States and Markets. 2nd ed., Londres, Pinter, 1994.
  • 5. Nicole Vulser, “L’alliance de l’économie et de la diplomatie américaines en Europe”, Le Monde, 27 July 2005, p. 25; Jens Ulff-Moller, Hollywood's Film Wars With France: Film-Trade Diplomacy and the Emergence of the French Film Quota Policy, Rochester, University of Rochester Press, 2001.
  • 6. According to the IIPA, in 2007 intellectual property industries stricto sensu represented 6.4% of GDP, or $636 billion. Cf., Stephen E. Siwek, Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy, Washington, Economists Incorporated, 2009, pp. 4-6, 10.
  • 7. Cf., IIPA, 2010 Special 301 Report, 2010, available online ; Brice Pedroletti, “La Chine devient la plate-forme mondiale d’exportation des DVD frauduleux”, Le Monde, 27 July 2005, p. 20. For more information on Special 301 and 306 procedures and the role of the U.S. Trade Represenative and Congress.
  • 8. Mark Schilling, “MPA Reject Korean Aim to Please”, Hollywood Reporter, (1222), 20-26 Aug. 1999.
  • 9. Don Groves, “MPA Sues China Pirates”, Variety, 15 Feb. 2004.
  • 10. “La MPAA porte plainte contre Hotfile”, Le Monde, 14 February 2011.
  • 11. “Zediva, le service de location de DVD qui ennuie Hollywood”, Le Monde, 6 April 2011; “Unkind Unwind”, The Economist, 19 March 2011, pp. 60-62.
  • 12. Ian Jarvie, Hollywood’s Overseas Campaign: The North Atlantic Movie Trade. 1920-1950, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992; Ulff-Moller, op. cit.
  • 13. Clifford Coonan, “Org Planning China Antipiracy Push”, Variety, 1 September 2005; Clifford Coonan, “D.C.’s Piracy Barbs Find Mark in China”, Variety, 15 February 2006.
  • 14. Clifford Coonan, “MPA, China Org to Share Piracy Info”, Variety, 3 March 2006.
  • 15. For example, “MPA and APSA Announce Renewal of Film Fund in Support of Asia Pacific Filmmakers”, MPA Press Release, 25th April 2011, available online.
  • 16. “The Business of Europe”, Screen International, 27 January 2006, pp. 25-27. On studio investments in national cinema, cf., Nolwenn Mingant, Hollywood. A la conquête du monde? Marchés, stratégies, influences, Paris, CNRS Editions, 2010, p. 183, 187.
  • 17. Ian Mohr, “MPAA Eyes New Anti-Piracy Plan”, Hollywood Reporter, 25 March 2004, p. 8 (25).
  • 18. “MPAA Targets Online Piracy”, Variety, 21 June 2004, p. 4.
  • 19. Gregg Kilday, “H’wood Basks in Record Int’l Take”, Hollywood Reporter, 23-29 March 2004, p. 1 (77).
  • 20. Cf., Fernand Braudel, La Dynamique du capitalisme, Paris, Arthaud, 1985, p. 68.
  • 21. Kerry Segrave, Piracy in the Motion Picture Industry, Jefferson (NC), McFarland, 2003; Colin Brown, “MPEAA Piracy War Seizes Record Spoils”, Screen International, 27 March 1992, p. 6.
  • 22. Susan K. Sell, “Multinational Corporations as Agents of Change: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights”, in: Anne C. Cutler, Virginia Haufler, Toney Porter, Private Authority and International Affairs, Albany (NY), SUNY, 1999, pp. 169-197.
  • 23. Cf., Susan Sell, Christopher May, Intellectual Property Rights: A Critical History, Boulder, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006; Susan Sell, Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • 24. “MPAA Commends Initiative to Launch Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, MPAA Press release, 23 October 2007; Alexandre Bohas, “Une construction mondiale de la rareté. Le projet ACTA d’accord commercial sur la contrefaçon”, Passage au crible, (22), 22 May 2010, available online.
  • 25. 22 agreements have been concluded in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and the Pacific. Signed for determined periods, their extension is accompanied by a renegotiation of the agreement concerning its impact and ends, thus granting Washington lobbyists considerable space. Cf. the web site.
  • 26. Josepha Laroche, Alexandre Bohas, Canal+ et les majors américaines. Une vision désenchantée du cinéma-monde, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2008, p. 12.
  • 27. Stephen Gill, “The Constitution of Global Capitalism”, Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, 14-18 March, in Los Angeles, Calif., 2000.
  • 28. Margaret Keck, Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • 29. “MPAA Files New lawsuits”, Film Journal International, 108 (3), March 2005, p. 8.
  • 30. Cf., Anti-Piracy Fact Sheet. Asia-Pacific Region, 2008, available onthe website of the MPA.
  • 31. Brooks Boliek, “Pirates Face World of Hurt”, Hollywood Reporter, 23-25 April 2004, p. 1 (25).
  • 32. Interview with John Malcom, MPA Director of international “anti-piracy” operations, August 2005.
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