Movie swappers put on notice
LOS ANGELES On Sept. 1, former secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman replaced the legendary Jack Valenti as president and CEO of Hollywood's trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America.

Thursday, he unveiled his first big initiative. At a press conference at UCLA, Glickman announced that the studios will begin suing online movie swappers in the next few weeks. The lawsuits follow in the footsteps of the Recording Industry Association of America, which began suing unauthorized Internet song traders in September 2003. The RIAA has sued more than 6,000 people and settled for fees ranging from $2,000 to $15,000.

USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham sat down with Glickman on Thursday to discuss the MPAA's legal strategy. Here's what he had to say, edited for clarity and space:

Q: Many people expected the MPAA to file lawsuits shortly after the RIAA began its campaign. What took you so long?

A: We wanted to watch their progress first and have some time to evaluate options.

Q: What did you find?

A: There's no question the RIAA reinforced that property rights needed to be protected. They did a great job in getting the word out that stealing copyrighted music was illegal. In the short term, it caused them some problems, but long term they were helped greatly by the campaign.

Q: What kind of problems?

A: Some people who were sued raised hell. But by and large, if you look at the big picture, it was important to make the point that this cannot be free. Piracy has a tremendous negative impact on consumers.

Q: At the time the RIAA announced its lawsuits, it said music sales had fallen 25% over a three-year period. The MPAA is in a much different situation. Box office receipts aren't down at all 2003's figures were $9.5 billion, the second biggest in history. So how is the MPAA being hurt by online piracy?

A: We know there are losses. We believe we're losing $3.5 billion yearly. Someone sneaks into a theater with a camcorder, films a movie, puts it online for the world to see for free, and it gets duplicated into DVDs that are getting sold on street corners from New York and Los Angeles to China. If this is allowed to continue, it will sink our industry.

Q: To follow up on that, piracy has even negatively affected your family, correct?

A: My son Jon was executive producer of the recent film Mr. 3000. A few days after the film was released, a member of my staff found it being sold as a DVD just a few blocks from our offices. I called my son to give him the bad news, and he told me this is happening to all the current films. And then he said, "And what are you going to do about it, Dad?"

Q: The music industry has only sued people who "upload" onto the Internet i.e., people who share content with others. No downloader has been sued, because the RIAA says it's easier to find uploaders. Are you planning to sue just uploaders as well?

A: Anybody who uses the technology to steal our property may be targeted. We want to get across the point that people are not anonymous on the Internet.

Q: You've been on the job for two months, and before this you worked in Congress and the White House. How are you getting up to speed on technology and the Internet?

A: I have very good teachers here. I think of myself as having adequate knowledge, but the principles are easy to understand. We have to embrace new technologies, but also enforce the law.

Q: Have you personally downloaded any movies from licensed online film sites, like MovieLink or CinemaNow?

A: I haven't downloaded any movies legally, or illegally. We do use Netflix though.

Q: Can piracy be licked?

A: We can stay ahead of the game, and we can make life very difficult for people who want to break the law. Will we totally obliterate piracy? No. But we have to make it as difficult as possible.

Q: Let's move to politics for a moment. As a lifelong Democrat, your appointment to the MPAA was criticized by several Republicans who said they felt a member of their party should have gotten the nod, since Republicans were in control of Congress. And there have been some reports that Congress withheld its support on some recent MPAA-supported bills in response.

What's your take?

A: We are an important industry that produces hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country.

It's hard for me to believe that for partisan political reasons, anyone would want to penalize a successful industry. Piracy is not a partisan issue. I can't be successful unless I'm bipartisan. I'm from Kansas, a state that didn't elect a lot of Democrats.

Now that the election is over and settled, people will become more secure with themselves.