Hollywood's copyright enforcer

Dean Garfield helped lead the fights against music sites Grokster and Kazaa. Now he's battling pirates from the movie studios' ramparts.

In Hollywood's ongoing battle against illegal file sharing, Dean Garfield is one of the people the studios depend on to cross swords with pirates.

Garfield is executive vice president and chief strategy officer for the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group that represents six of the nation's largest movie studios. He's charged with finding ways to limit the bootlegging of feature films and, as he says, help the film industry not end up like the music industry.

He knows all about the music industry's mostly losing battle against piracy. Prior to joining the MPAA, Garfield was vice president of legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America, where he helped manage the court cases against Grokster, Kazaa and MusicCity.

This kind of experience, working for both the music and film industries, has turned Garfield into the face of copyright enforcement.

But at the same time that the MPAA is pursuing a copyright complaint against TorrentSpy, a BitTorrent tracker, Garfield has been named in a lawsuit filed by TorrentSpy. He's accused of hiring a hacker to steal information from TorrentSpy's servers. The MPAA has denied the charges, and Garfield declined to comment on pending litigation.

CNET News.com recently spoke with Garfield about the MPAA's tactics and strategy for dealing with digital piracy.

Q: So is piracy growing?
Garfield: That's a good question. We're actually looking at it. In 2005, for the first time, we actually undertook that analysis, to look at the losses that are suffered by the industry from piracy, and we are in the process of revisiting and refreshing that analysis.

My thought is that it's not clear whether it's growing, although my sense is that it probably is. I do think also that it's changing very dramatically as we move forward. And we're trying to adapt and evolve to address it.

If you look at the list of movies that have broken new ground, from Star Wars to Polar Express, nobody would look at those movies and suggest that our industry is afraid of technology. The truth is quite the opposite.

Why do so many of these young people see the MPAA and RIAA as one big evil empire?
Garfield: I'm going to challenge your assumption a little bit. I do think that the people are able to distinguish between the industries. But for a lot of folks who aren't versed in our world, it's all Hollywood. So we're viewed as part of Hollywood and all that's wrong with Hollywood.

They aren't able to see the value and hard work that goes into making a movie. It's a real investment. It requires not only vision and great storytelling, but real capital investment. It costs a little over $100 million to make and market a movie.

Why hasn't the MPAA trotted out respected stars to help get your message out? Might it be more persuasive for Tom Hanks and Sean Penn to help sell the message?
Garfield: It's a good idea. We are trying to do more and more to spread the word on all that goes into the magic of moviemaking and the impact it has not only on people's lives but on our economy.

Earlier this year, we put out a report on the economic impact of the motion picture industry, and we had a symposium in Washington. The people behind that were the studios as well as the artists who are part of that industry. That is one of the events that we hope to do, to put a face to the work that goes into the movies.

I'm not of the view that we aren't doing anything. I'm also not of the view that we have a monopoly on perfection. So I think we can improve.

You guys have chosen a different tack than the music industry on fighting piracy. You aren't suing many people.
Garfield: We have sued some individuals, but we just haven't done it at the level of the music industry. Our campaign was different in that it was targeted at education and deterrents. In our testing over time, we started to see some difference. It's not where we wanted it to be.

Some members of the public didn't know what was legal. We're looking to see now whether, after this education, they will act consistent with what they know. Driving drunk was socially tolerated at one point in this country's history, but things have changed, and it's not accepted any longer. Hopefully, we'll get to that kind of understanding and change behavior.

What kind of technologies are you guys using to help prevent piracy?
Garfield: We're at the point where technology provides real opportunity, and it's not just down the road, but today. We're conducting requests for proposals in conjunction with MovieLabs around content recognition technologies. (MovieLabs is a company started by the six major studios to develop technologies that can help distribution of film.)

That testing is still ongoing, but the reports are that the technology really works. It is really effective. You can distinguish one piece of content versus another. That's real potential for monetizing and filtering out copyright content. Technology gives us real opportunities to give consumers what they want while also protecting the investment.

The big studios have just sold Movielink for pennies on the dollar. Google has gotten out of the video-on-demand business. Is it time to give up on the Internet as a distribution method for feature films?
Garfield: I don't think so. It's still too early. We're in the truly nascent stages of the Internet as a multimedia delivery mechanism. We are really just starting out. In time, I think it will be a real medium for delivering digital content.

Jack Valenti compared the Betamax to the Boston Strangler. Critics of the MPAA say his statement was an example of Hollywood's paranoia of technology. Are you guys paranoid?
Garfield: I wouldn't say that at all. The thing to keep in mind is that the development of the DVD and turning the Betamax recorder into a viable piece of technology was something done by our industry. We were behind much of the development behind DVDs.

What the studios do is tell stories, but the way they tell those stories is through the use of technology. We embrace technology and use it to tell our stories more effectively.

If you look at the list of movies that have broken new ground, from Star Wars to Polar Express, nobody would look at those movies and suggest that our industry is afraid of technology. The truth is quite the opposite.

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