Creating Together: Film, TV, and Accountability in the Digital Era
Charles H. Rivkin, Chairman and CEO, the Motion Picture Association of America
Remarks to the Canadian Club of Ottawa, Canada
As Prepared for Delivery
Thanks Marc for that introduction and for taking the time to be here with us this morning. I also want to thank the Canadian Club for hosting us in the historic Sir John A. Macdonald building. Thank you to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Community Pipes and Drums band for those amazing sounds. You’re a hard act to follow!
It’s great to share this morning with all of you, in this warm embrace of a country. Socially and culturally, Canada feels like a home away from home for almost everybody. Commercially, it’s one of the best places to do business in the world for my member studios, especially as we all work together to embrace and adapt to the digital era.
It is in that interconnected spirit, not only between our countries and industries, but as fellow users, creators, and consumers in the global internet community, that I am calling today for a conversation, a serious and ongoing one, about the lack of accountability on the internet.
I’ll be speaking more about that in a few minutes. But before I continue, I wanted to express my appreciation to Marc – for something he did last year.
Marc, Je suis ravi que vous puissiez vous joindre à nous, et pas uniquement parce qu’il est important que des responsables politiques se joignent à ce genre de discussion.
Je souhaiterais également vous dire à quel point je suis impressionné et ému de vous entendre vous exprimer en Kanyen’Kéha, ou langue de Mohawk, dans cette Chambre des Communes. Car c’est bien la première fois que cette langue résonne dans l’une de ces Chambres du Parlement Canadien depuis la Confédération.
Je suis touché que vous ayez fait l’effort d’apprendre cette langue qui, de toute évidence, est très difficile à maîtriser, et je suis sensible au fait que vous ayez jugé important de mettre en exergue ce langage peu familier – en particulier au moment où tant de langues des Premières Nations se perdent au profit de la modernité.
Et comme vous le disiez si bien: “Savoir communiquer, c’est aller à la découverte des origines de son interlocuteur.”
As the first Member of Parliament to address the House of Commons in the Mohawk language since Confederation, Marc recognized the importance of bringing all voices into the conversation – especially when so many languages of the First Nation are being lost to modernity.
That’s especially resonant today because my industry recognizes that our storytellers should be as diverse as our audiences and are committed to achieving this goal. And secondly, we find ourselves at a time when the internet is allowing more voices to communicate in more ways than at any time in human history.
The stakes for our many different voices to be heard, and for a healthy internet that serves them best, could not be greater.
That’s why the topic I bring today – internet accountability – is so timely and important. For as we meet, the healthy and thriving internet that we all want is in serious jeopardy.
Whether you’re online, watching the CBC, or reading any newspaper from the New York Times to Le Journal de Montréal, you know that the dominant online platforms are facilitating an avalanche of harms, wittingly or unwittingly. This is placing great strain on our global community and the values, laws and norms that have long defined and shaped who we are.
Just the other day, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke about the anxiety that people are feeling over the disruptions we are experiencing in virtually everything from the workplace to society at large, and how the politics of fear and division, especially through television and social media are “exaggerating and exacerbating the fears people have.”
Just to name just a few, these include election meddling, the vulnerability of consumer privacy, and a primary concern for my industry – online piracy. It’s proof of the digital ecosystem’s reach that I just have to say a word or phrase, and everyone knows what I mean, from Cambridge Analytica, which affected more than 620,000 Canadians, to Infowars. And that’s just in the past few months.
In 1787, a British clergyman named Thomas Francklin once said: “Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind. Her steps, though sure, are slow and solemn.”
That quote has been handed down, repurposed, and attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to Winston Churchill. But its central idea applies to our world more than ever. Thanks to the internet’s speed and scalability, false reports are being retweeted thousands of times around the world before the truth even has a chance to log on.
The conversation I am calling for would be about how we can return the internet to its original promise: a place for vibrant, civil, and factually reliable discourse…
A marketplace where we can conduct legitimate commerce – not one that more closely resembles an ungoverned bazaar where far too many goods are fraudulent and counterfeit.
I delivered a speech recently at the Aspen Tech Conference, where I suggested that this conversation could explore any number of options. And while I realize that, while what may pass in one country or region often does not have reciprocity in another, there are fundamental issues that I believe apply to our whole global internet community.
It starts with the recognition that accountability and interdependence must always be at the foundation of an internet that supports freedom of expression, commerce, creativity and innovation. Online platforms must do more to mitigate the harms they are enabling; and we must work collaboratively to address them.
We are not alone in this call. Here in Canada, for example, the House of Commons is resuming its review of the Copyright Act. And Canadian creators of all kinds have come forward to speak to the laws that still protects intermediary service providers from liability … even when they are aware their systems are being used for illegal activities.
Online platforms were the subject of a report last month by the Public Policy Forum. Its authors, Edward Greenspon and Taylor Owen, declared that the major platforms have contributed to “an incentive system that aligns well with the disseminators of false and inflammatory information.”
They followed that report with an op-ed in the Globe and Mail, entitled: “We Can Save Democracy from Destructive Digital Threats.”
The good news is, the CEOs of major platforms themselves are beginning to acknowledge their accountability.
In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg, admirably led the way in Washington, saying in his Congressional testimony: “I agree we are responsible for the content” on Facebook.
Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi made a similar admission when he said: “We have to stand for the content of our platforms… We can’t just say we’re a platform and our job is done.”
Even Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, has expressed his profound disappointment in an internet that, in his words, has “failed instead of served humanity.”
The crescendo is rising within our ecosystem. The message is getting louder by the day: Internet platforms must be accountable. And they must do more to address harmful and illegal activities that take place on their platforms.
But we all have a role to play in this. As the internet becomes ever more embedded in our lives, globe-spanning problems can only be solved if we address them together.
Before I talk about how and when we went astray, as well as present a few ideas about how we can work together, I’d like to share some highlights of the journey that brings me here today – and informs my perspective on this ecosystem.
I worked as a CEO in the film and television industry for close to 20 years. At the Jim Henson Company, I was proud to head a creative organization whose iconic characters, such as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the Muppets, had such a positive, entertaining, and educational impact on children and families the world over.
We produced fantasy and sci-fi classics like “Labyrinth,” “Farscape” and “The Dark Crystal” that redefined the genre. And at Wildbrain, I was proud to be one of the executive producers of the children’s innovative educational show “Yo Gabba Gabba!”
For more than eight years – first as U.S. Ambassador to France – and then as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, I worked at the intersection of the public and private sectors, at a time when the internet truly transformed both of those worlds.
As ambassador, I frequently advocated for the commercial interests of technology companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon’s in France and across Europe – as we worked to remove barriers to digital trade and open new avenues for American companies in global internet commerce.
As Assistant Secretary, I led a Bureau that had the interagency lead on U.S. internet policy around the world. From multilateral conferences to international plenipotentiaries, we worked hard to stand up for free speech and strengthen internet governance.
Now, as Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, I am proud to represent this iconic and storied industry, which has become such an active player at a time of real disruption and change.
As consumers’ digital viewing choices have shifted, we have taken the lead in this digital revolution. Our companies have launched an explosion of new investments in film and television. The content that we produce is available on more than 450 legal online distribution services. And we announce innovative new deals all the time.
Disney is launching an exciting new streaming service next year. CBS All Access launched in Canada in April. And several of the studios that I represent are backing Jeffrey Katzenberg’s latest venture, a mobile-first video service called NewTV.
Then, now, and into the future, Canada has been, and will always be, an essential partner.
From “Suits” in Toronto,” “X-Men” and “The Bold Type” in Montreal to “Deadpool” and Warner Bros. iconic DC’s Superhero series in Vancouver, our studios support the development of talent and provide good middle-class jobs for tens of thousands of Canadians.
Canada is a global leader in special effects and that includes our studios who have brought Industrial, Light and Magic and Sony Imageworks toVancouver. Canadian creators play a leading role in exciting innovations you see on screen. From the IATSE grips who created the inflatable green screen technology that created “Planet of the Apes” to the technical artists working on the lines of code used to simulate the flight of the Millennium Falcon.
The same holds true for animation. This week, animators and fans will be flocking to Ottawa for its annual International Animation Festival. Ottawa’s own Mercury Filmworks works in partnership with Disney Television Animation and has become one of the top 2D animation studios in the world.
Working together, our numbers tell the story. Last year, film and television producers spent more than $8.3 billion in total in Canada and supported more than 171,000 jobs. More than $3.75 billion of that total was generated by production projects from foreign producers – and our American producers represented the vast majority.
Our productions also support businesses, large and small, across the country. In 2017, our member studios spent $1.4 billion at over 11,000 local businesses, but not only in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. We worked with companies supplying sheet metal, food, lumber, gasoline, trucks, costumes, wardrobes, location rentals, from Manitoba to Northern Ontario, and from Vancouver Island to Marc’s riding. In Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs, MPA studios spent more than $150 million at 213 local businesses last year alone.
This dynamic creative economy deserves all our best efforts to protect and advance it within this complicated digital era.
The toxic developments that I mentioned earlier affect all of us in the internet ecosystem – consumers, creators, and commercial operators alike. So it may seem that combating piracy is a relatively small concern in the greater scheme of things. But the theft of creative content is a serious and deeply personal threat everywhere, including Canadians whose livelihoods depend upon a healthy film and television industry.
Speaking before a House of Commons Committee, TV producer Stephen Stohn recently spoke about the effects of piracy on “Degrassi.” Despite the show’s widespread availability in legal channels, he said, more than 1,300 torrents and 3,000 illegal links allow viewers to access the show “thousands and thousands” of times.
The work of pirate site operators has become so pervasive, Stohn continued, that it “negatively impacts our ability to grow Canada’s production sector to its full capacity.”
There’s an even bigger point to be made here. Online piracy is also the proverbial canary in a coal mine. The same pervasive theft that my industry faces is part of a continuum of toxic developments that harm all of us in this ecosystem – consumers, creators, and commercial operators alike.
So where did this all go astray?
It’s worth examining how we got to this situation in the first place: where some believe that platform immunity—in other words, a complete absence of legal accountability – is a necessary condition for a vibrant internet.
In the early 1990s, the internet was a nascent industry with limitless potential. Internet pioneers made a convincing argument. Like a hothouse plant, this nascent industry needed protection if it was going to innovate and be competitive. They needed immunity from the legal obligations that govern most businesses in the real world.
But the internet of the late 1990s is no longer the internet of today. As I often said when I led the Economic Bureau at the State Department, the internet economy became the economy. E-commerce just became commerce.
We are now a neighborhood of interconnected creators, consumers and contractors. Ten years ago, that online neighborhood was 50 million users. Now it’s more than two billion.
The internet policies that we still have in place were written at a time when the online platforms were nascent. They are nascent no longer. We live in an AI world that is still operating on an AOL policy framework. Yet many platforms still cite statutes written to address the specific conditions that existed in the 1990s to avoid accountability.
It’s time to realign our norms and expectations between two worlds that have become one and the same, as well as the incentives that will help us meet them.
Right now, that commitment doesn’t exist in the digital space, in theory or practice.
But from our perspective, we’ve seen powerful examples of how we can begin the collaborative effort to turn the tide in the right direction.
We’re honored to call Amazon, one of the biggest and most important of the internet platforms, a partner in the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (or ACE), a global anti-piracy initiative whose 30 members include the six MPA studios, HBO, Netflix and Canada’s Bell Media.
We are grateful that Amazon has put proactive programs into place that protect trademarks and help curb counterfeiting and to Bell Media for joining us as the first Canadian company as part of this global alliance.
For example, Amazon’s Brand Registry gives rights owners advanced tools, including search capabilities, to protect their brands from counterfeits. And a system of theirs known as “Transparency in the US,” which uses alphanumeric codes to authenticate products, is designed to achieve similar outcomes.
At the MPA, we work with the advertising community to help companies keep track of where their ads are going.
We are also working with payment processors such as Mastercard, Visa and Paypal to prevent pirates from using those organizations’ financial networks to fund their unlawful online activities.
But there is so much more to be done. And ladies and gentlemen, the case for online platforms to step forward at this time and work with us toward achieving greater accountability could not be clearer.
Thanks in large part to the protections that nurtured them, they have become some of the best-resourced and sophisticated companies in the world. They’re not only morally duty bound, they’re supremely qualified to solve these problems at their very core.
You’ve now heard my perspective—informed by my time leading creative companies in the private sector and leading internet policy while serving the American people at home and abroad. I have had the opportunity to see these issues from many different sides, and I am greatly encouraged that this dialogue is going to continue on the next panel, where the topic will be online platforms and the role of policy in finding a balance between the benefits they bring and the harms that they sometimes make possible.
When we think about consumers and the constellation of aspirations, dreams and economic prosperity they can bring to the internet, there is no other recourse. We can and must do better.
I’ll leave you with an observation from my time at the State Department. My bureau convened global summits to support the aspirations of entrepreneurs everywhere. One of those summits brought us to Silicon Valley itself – which was the Promised Land for so many of these international dreamers.
What I saw there was some amazing technology. But I also saw a spirit there that gives me enormous optimism, not only about the tech sector’s ability to address today’s problems but unforeseen challenges ahead. That collective spirit was never daunted by what others said was impossible. People were too busy working towards “yes” to take “no” for an answer.
I can’t help but imagine the success if the major online platforms could evolve from being at the heart of the problem to being architects of our shared success.
The stakes, as I said, could not be higher for all of us.
From the creative industries that benefit the economy and culture in Canada, to every small business owner, artist, law maker, and casual user from Saskatoon to Singapore, every stakeholder must be a player in that shared success.
All of us teaming our technological might with our common resolve.
All of us working together to create safeguards against abuses.
All of us working towards “yes.”
At the end of the day, we all want this ecosystem of ours to thrive for generations to come. And what greater “yes” could we hope for?