Not-So-Zen and the Art of Voluntary Agreements

Google’s anti-copyright stance is just a way to devalue content. That’s bad for artists and bad for consumers.

Kurt Sutter talks Sons of Anarchy at the 2013 Summer Television Critics Association tour on Aug. 2, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Hollywood and its activists always make for a convenient and easy punching bag. Public opinion gets wildly distorted, so folks perceive us as decadent spendthrifts who drive to work in gold Maybachs, where we dabble in our “art,” while minions massage our feet and feed us the marinated roe of endangered species. Other than Diddy, that’s just not the case.

And man, this manipulation is getting fucking dangerous.

Let’s consider the March 11 anti-copyright rant in Slate by Marvin Ammori, a lawyer working for Google (which somehow he forgot to mention in the article). He compares Hollywood to that insidious “ex who won’t give up” pursuing you and making your life miserable. As a guy with more than a few exes, I have to tell you, Marv, the most insidious ex is the one who hides the truth, steals your money, and lies to all your friends. That’s what Ammori and Google are doing.

Clearly, I’m not a lobbyist. I don’t think you’re allowed to say “fuck” in lobby school. Or at least, I’m sure there’s a fuck cap, which I’ve already exceeded. I’m a writer who makes his living in television and film (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, Outlaw Empires.) I create dramatic content. I’m blessed. I get paid a lot of money to do something I love. I wouldn’t trade the 80-hour weeks, the psychiatrist bills, the death threats, the hostile-work-environment claims, or the fact that I have to reintroduce myself to my children every hiatus for anything. But make no mistake: I work hard to create my content. So do the hundreds of people I employ who work with me every day.

So does every other writer, producer, director, actor, musician, tech developer, and artist out there. We all commit and burn to do what we love.

Everyone is aware that Google has done amazing things to revolutionize our Internet experience. And I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Google are very nice people. But the big G doesn’t contribute anything to the work of creatives. Not a minute of effort or a dime of financing. Yet Google wants to take our content, devalue it, and make it available for criminals to pirate for profit. Convicted felons like Kim Dotcom generate millions of dollars in illegal revenue off our stolen creative work. People access Kim through Google. And then, when Hollywood tries to impede that thievery, it’s presented to the masses as a desperate attempt to hold on to antiquated copyright laws that will kill your digital buzz. It’s so absurd that Google is still presenting itself as the lovable geek who’s the friend of the young everyman. Don’t kid yourself, kids: Google is the establishment. It is a multibillion-dollar information portal that makes dough off of every click on its page and every data byte it streams. Do you really think Google gives a shit about free speech or your inalienable right to access unfettered content? Nope. You’re just another revenue resource Google can access to create more traffic and more data streams. Unfortunately, those streams are now pristine, digital ones of our work, which all flow into a huge watershed of semi-dirty cash. If you want to know more about how this works, just Google the word “parasite.” And if you think I’m exaggerating, ask yourself why Google spends tens of millions of dollars each year to hire lawyers and lobbyists (like Marv) whose sole purpose is to erode creative copyright laws.

Do they do this because they hate artists? No. They do it because they love money.

Every writer, producer, actor, musician, director, tech wizard, and fine artist working today needs to be aware of what this all means for our future—we will lose the ability to protect and profit from our own work. Every kid out there who aspires to be an actor or musician or artist: This is your future that’s at stake. More importantly, everyone who enjoys quality entertainment: This impacts you most of all. Content excellence cannot sustain itself if it loses its capacity to reward the talent that creates it. Consider this clunky analogy: If your local car dealership started selling your favorite luxury car for $1,000, then $100, then started giving it away, what do you think would happen to the quality of that vehicle? Before long, the manufacturer would be forced to let go of the skilled laborer, the artisan, and the craftsman, and eventually cut back on everything in the production process. And before long, that fabulous, high-end car you so enjoyed will be a sheet of warped plywood on top of two rusty cans.

Yep, it’s cheap, and it’s shit.

Look, whether you think I’m an idiot or a prophet (ironically, that’s the name of my new autobiography: The Idiot Prophet), at the very least, I hope you take away a few things from this, whatever the hell this is.

  1. At this point, we are not talking about legislation or throwing handcuffs on any single party. We don’t want blood. Voluntary agreements are simply a place to start. It means sitting down to begin a fair, open dialogue to find a solution that gives consumers the access and tools they need, while still protecting the livelihood and rights of content creators. This means that everyone is welcome to the table—artists, corporations, consumers, Google … hell, bring along Marvin and all his exes!
  2. Voluntary agreements can bring strange bedfellows together. The creative industry is now working with ISPs on the Copyright Alert System, a voluntary, cooperative effort to let subscribers know when their network might be used for illegal downloading. And it was created with input from public interest groups, including Public Knowledge, the Future of Privacy Forum, and others.
  3. No one benefits from piracy except the criminals and the portal that opens its doors to them. Stealing content may feel like a win, but supporting piracy will ultimately diminish the quality of the content you’ve come to love and depend on. Google and the other copyright killers will tell you the opposite to assuage your burden of guilt and theirs, but again, it’s in their best interests to do everything and anything that serves their current bottom line.
  4. Diddy drives a solid-gold Maybach, never wears the same Rolex twice, and his boxers are made of the fur of baby pumas he kills with his bare hands.*

*This intel may not be accurate; I found it all on Yahoo.