Who's Buying Into Copy Controls?
WASHINGTON -- It's no secret that Hollywood fears losing property and profits to online movie pirates just as the music labels were panicked by Napster. But the entertainment industry is also vigorously backing up its call for copy controls with campaign cash to key lawmakers.
Political action committees (PACs) of Motion Picture Association of America members have sent at least $3.4 million to reelection campaigns of Congress members over the past four years, according to Federal Elections Commission data. That same period saw crucial decisions on legislation in which Hollywood companies had a stake, including the passage of the
PACs from AOL Time Warner, Fox, MGM, Sony, Universal, and Viacom contributed to both Republicans and Democrats on Commerce or Judiciary committees in both houses. Both committees are center stage for legislation dealing with issues of intellectual property. The contributions to individual elected officials are in the thousands of dollars, so they account for only a single-digit percentage of the candidate's total receipts. But the amounts are typical of many industry PAC contributions. Also, they are spread widely across the relevant committee members, and lobbyists know they often open a candidate's office door.
Representative Howard Berman tops the recipient list, with $68,000 from those MPAA members' PACs over four years. Berman, whose district includes North Hollywood, was a strong supporter of the contentious DMCA and was the top Democrat on the House subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property when it passed.
"The marketplace is better suited than the government to pick technology winners and losers," Berman said in a statement. "[But] there are times when it's appropriate for the government to step in." Berman supported the use of a particular copy control technology in videocassette recorders in the DMCA, saying it was necessary to protect copyrighted content.
In second place among entertainment industry campaign cash recipients are two Republicans, Representative Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, each with $49,000 from entertainment industry PACs.
Tauzin is known for a controversial
Hatch was a leading crusader for the DMCA and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Napster hearings. He has shown a commitment to protecting the entertainment industry's copyright.
"I take it as a basic premise that copyright laws must play a role in protecting creative works over the Internet," Hatch said at the
Senator Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, and Michigan Democratic Representative John Dingell are close behind Tauzin and Hatch. Burns received $46,500 in contributions from the entertainment industry, and Dingell received $46,162. Both are members of Commerce committees and key players in the digital copyright debate.
In each case, the PAC contributions from the tracked entertainment industry companies amounted to less than 3 percent--and sometimes just 1 percent--of the member's total campaign contributions, according to FEC records.
Political action committees play the money game every day. Carefully targeted contributions, augmented by lobbying on the issues, are a key component of the legislation game, industry sources note.
Hollywood's contributions come as no surprise to Norman Ornstein, a campaign finance policy analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
"I'd be stunned if most of the giving didn't go to those members of Congress on the Judiciary and Commerce committees, because they deal with intellectual property," Ornstein says. "Most of this giving is about access. You're going to give to members where that access matters to you."
Consumer and technology advocates say it's an uphill battle to oppose legislation that Hollywood champions. Consumers are difficult to organize and are a silent minority compared with campaign contributions, says Steve Weissman, legislative counsel of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader.
"The only way consumers can have an impact is if they're organized, intense, and there's a lot of them," Weissman says. "In that case, Congress has to listen to their constituency."
Consumer groups like the
Other activists are trying to engage lawmakers in discussions geared toward consumer rights, rather than the interests of large corporations.
"When they start to get hundreds of letters from constituents, they need to listen," says Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge.