- "A person is smart; people are dumb."
-- Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black (1997)
Four out of the five major U.S. motion picture studios in the Motion Picture Association of America control major U.S. television news outlets:
- Comcast owns Universal Studios, NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, and the last mile of high-speed Internet across much of the United States.
- The Walt Disney Company owns Walt Disney Pictures, 20th Century Fox, ABC, and ABC News Now.
- National Amusements owns Paramount Pictures and CBS.
- Time Warner owns Warner Bros. Pictures, CNN, and HLN.
Sony doesn't own a U.S. TV news outlet. Fox owns the Fox television network, Fox News Channel, and Fox Business Channel, but sold its movie studio in December 2017.
In a representative democracy, voters elect legislators based on two kinds of information: the issues and the candidates. The MPAA studios influence the law by using the news outlets that are part of the same media conglomerate to manipulate both kinds of information, framing the discourse favorably to the movie industry. It is claimed that the MPAA and other corporate media have become a fourth branch of government.
"If they're talking about it on TV, it must be important."
Even though individuals may be smart, the public tends to believe what the TV tells them to believe. If a news outlet reports on a particular criminal investigation, the audience assumes the case newsworthy, even if its result would affect less of the economy than some other topic. For example, if a TV pundit like Lou Dobbs routinely talks about illegal immigration, voters will take into account immigration policy. Or if no pundits routinely talk about copyright, even how it affects the millions of bloggers in the developed world, voters won't take into account copyright policy.
This means TV news tends to bury stories about legislation that helps the movie studios more than it helps the end users. Think back to 1998: the major networks failed to cover the copyright industry landgrabs known as the Copyright Term Extension Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and their ramifications on the availability of works and devices. And from 2006, when the public first learned of the existence of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, until 2010, when the first ACTA draft became public, which TV news channel covered it in a newscast? No matter how "fair and balanced" Fox News Channel claims to be, or how "fair and balanced" some say the combination of Fox News Channel and MSNBC is, neither one nor both is free enough from conflict of interest to a balanced view of the copyfight.
Some claim that only geeks and people who work in the entertainment industry care about copyright, and a copyright story would bore viewers. But copyright legislation is important to anyone who wants to make fair use of a copyrighted work. This includes time- and place-shifting, de minimis use in another work, use in parody or other criticism of a work, etc. And this includes far more than geeks; copyright and the automated enforcement thereof touch everybody who has submitted a video to Dailymotion or YouTube. An occasional 60-second story in the 60-minute news loop typical of "headline news" shows, such as the cable news channels' daytime schedules, wouldn't be so long as to bore viewers, yet MPAA news channels are too conflicted to give even that.
"Ron Paul? Who's that?"
So you want to run for an elected Federal office in the United States. But without support from television news and the movie studios that run it, your campaign can't get its message out to a majority of voters in your district. Consider Ron Paul's 2008 campaign for President of the United States. Paul is a libertarian Republican who serves as a legislator in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 14th District of Texas. Though his campaign had wide support among Internet users, it crashed and burned among the general public when the major networks gave the campaigns of John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney so much more exposure. In fact, the debate moderators wouldn't let Paul get a word in edgewise.
Perhaps the most direct evidence for MPAA control over campaigns came in 2012 when MPAA president Chris Dodd "suggested in a Fox News interview that Hollywood would cut off campaign funds for President Obama and other lawmakers who withdrew support" for a federal mandate of censorship of foreign Internet sites allegedly dedicated to copyright infringement.
- Michael Davis, Andrew Stark (2001). Conflict of interest in the professions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019512863X.
- Lawrence Lessig (2011). Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It. Twelve. ISBN 9780446576437.
- "EXCLUSIVE: Chris Dodd warns of Hollywood backlash against Obama over anti-piracy bill". FoxNews.com, 2012-01-19. Accessed 2012-12-29.
- Pamela McClintock. "MPAA Chief Christopher Dodd Says SOPA Debate Isn't Over, Defends Hosting Harvey Weinstein Even as He Attacked Over 'Bully'". The Hollywood Reporter. 2012-04-05. Accessed 2012-04-06.