Why Was Chris Dodd Chosen to Helm the MPAA?

Hollywood loves copyright. It owns enough congresspeople to get serious Hill attention, and its hefty political contributions ensure that executive branch doors are open at all times, so usually it can safely ignore the rantings on this issue of its liberal bedfellows.

The current big content issue concerns draft legislation to allow the government to deal peremptorily with pirate websites, in particular those based overseas and thus beyond the reach of conventional U.S. legal action. The issues involve not just digital piracy of entertainment but counterfeit goods of all kinds, including pharmaceuticals and sensitive chipsets, and -- speaking of odd bedfellows -- the content industry and the Chamber of Commerce are united on this one, and have secured substantial bipartisan sponsorship.

But the substantive and political issues are very tough. The proposals would allow the government to take immediate action to block pirate websites, and to enlist and sometimes compel the help of all parts of the Internet ecosystem -- service providers, domain name registries, payment networks, and advertising placers.

Obviously, there are questions of over-reach in the definition of offending sites, of mechanisms to prevent errors and to correct those that occur, and of limiting the demands on the other Internet players. Even those who are property rights hawks regard this law as a deadly minefield, and want to tread with great care. Those who are skeptical of IP anyway, like much of the tech community, regard it as an outrage.

So Hollywood needs to woo both its own usual allies as well as its usual opposition. It needs support of more than the business groups in the Chamber.

Courting the Republican opposition starts with a big handicap. Hollywood has never supported property rights as a general institution. It favors its own property, period. In terms of protecting land, or the right to make a living, or sunk investment capital, or anything else, Hollywood never met a progressive program of rapine and plunder that it would not support.

It has a habit of coming to Republicans and saying, “Well this is a property rights issue and you favor property rights, so you are bound by your principles to help us even though, since we have no principles, we are not bound to reciprocate on your problems.”

This game has gotten old, and Republicans are getting reluctant to play. One hears, increasingly, that the proper response should be, “Yes, we favor property rights, but we’ll make an exception for yours.”

Given this disquiet, from the standpoint of the business firms concerned with the very big problem of counterfeit goods, it is not clear that the alliance with Hollywood remains a plus. It might be easier to draft legislation that dealt only with counterfeits and not with digital piracy, both technically and because the content people may be alienating more supporters than they bring in.

So on all counts, the choice of Dodd is odd. Why bring in someone renowned for a total tin ear in hearing arguments for the other side? And on an issue that requires a high level of reassurance about thoughtfulness, honesty, and fair dealing, why a spokesman regarded as silly, corrupt, and (worse) unpunished? Why make your allies question your value?

Perhaps there is some realpolitik here that escapes easy view, but it seems unlikely. Hollywood may love illusion, but a grounding in reality has its points.