Chris Dodd’s Email Reveals What MPAA Really Thinks Of Fair Use: ‘Extremely Controversial’

Two years ago, we were among those who noted how odd it was to see the MPAA in court arguing in favor of fair use, since the MPAA tends to argue against fair use quite frequently. The legal geniuses at the MPAA felt hurt by our post and some of the other news coverage on the issue, and put out a blog post claiming that the MPAA and its members actually love fair use. According to that post, the MPAA’s members “rely on the fair use doctrine every day” and the idea that it “opposes” fair use is “simply false, a notion that doesn’t survive even a casual encounter with the facts.”

Now, as you may have heard, Wikileaks has put the leaked Sony emails online for everyone to search through for themselves. I imagine that there will be a variety of new stories coming out of this trove of information, now that it’s widely available, rather than limited to the small group who got the initial email dumps. In digging through the emails, one interesting one popped up. It’s Chris Dodd revealing the MPAA’s true view on “fair use” in an email to Michael Froman, the US Trade Rep in charge of negotiating agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP).

You see, about a year ago, Froman gave a speech where he made a very brief mention of the importance of fair use, and how, for the first time, the USTR would be including fair use in agreements. Here’s what Froman said:

And, for the first time in any trade agreement, we are asking our trading partners to secure robust balance in their copyright systems – an unprecedented move that draws directly on U.S. copyright exceptions and limitations, including fair use for important purposes such as scholarship, criticism, news commentary, teaching, and research.

Nothing major. Nothing controversial. In fact, as we’ve pointed out, the actual text in the various leaks of the TPP show that while it is true that the USTR has, for the first time, mentioned concepts related to fair use, it has only done so in a manner that would limit how fair use could be implemented.

And that brings us to Dodd’s email to Froman, in which he reveals that, contrary to the MPAA’s “we love fair use” claim in its public blog post, the MPAA is actually quite fearful of fair use and the idea that it might spread outside of the US to other countries:

Dear Ambassador Froman:

I am writing to you today regarding your Wednesday remarks at the Center for American Progress. I am concerned about your suggestion that previous free trade agreements’ copyright provisions were unbalanced and that USTR has addressed this lack of balance by including “fair use” in the TPP. Quite to the contrary, the recently ratified US-Korea FTA was supported by a broad cross-section of US industry, from tech and the internet community to the copyright community, and furthermore has been held up as a model agreement.

As I know you are aware, the inclusion of “fair use” in free trade agreements is extremely controversial and divisive. The creative community has been, and remains, a strong and consistent supporter of free trade, but the potential export of fair use via these agreements raises serious concerns within the community I represent. Over the last 24 hours, I have received calls from my member companies questioning what they perceive as a significant shift in US trade policy and, as a consequence, the value of the TPP to their industry.

It may be that people are reacting to the subsequent press releases by private groups following your remarks. I am certain these concerns have been elevated by indications from the US government that the ISP liability provisions in the TPP are going to be weakened. Nonetheless, this issue is of enough significance that I felt I must reach out to you directly prior to your departure for Singapore to register our deep concerns.

I am hopeful that I can report back to my members that that US trade policy has not changed, that USTR is committed to securing strong copyright provisions in the TPP. But, there is no question Wednesday’s speech is reverberating in the content community, and I would be remiss if I failed to raise these concerns to you personally. I would be very grateful if you would respond to these concerns at your earliest convenience. I realize you will be traveling, but this is a sense of urgency surrounding our concerns.

Regards,

Christopher J. Dodd

Motion Picture Association of America

So, the MPAA loves fair use… but the very idea that the USTR might include fair use in a trade agreement (as it had announced years earlier, and which it is doing in very limited — and limiting — ways) is “controversial and divisive”? All the way to the point that the MPAA is concerned about whether it can still support the effort? That does not sound like an organization that really does support fair use at all. In fact, it sounds like an organization that actively does “oppose” fair use, contrary to the claims in its blog post. Funny how the MPAA’s public statements appear to completely disagree with what it says directly to politicians, huh?

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