Progress in the Fight: Strong partnerships drive content protection success In Asia-Pacific

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Cinemas Features

As CineAsia marks the end of another year and we draw together to muse about Hollywood’s upcoming slates and the year ahead, it’s also a good opportunity to cast an eye back at how things have progressed. There are many reasons to be optimistic about the state of our industry here in Asia. For one thing, the economic indicators confirm continued growth not only last year, but also consistently over the past five years. But perhaps an even more positive, emerging trend is a new consensus towards the promotion and protection of filmed entertainment and a shared concern for the future of the industry.

Raising awareness about this simple message—the value of intellectual-property rights protection and creativity—remains a fundamental priority for the Motion Picture Association and its represented studios. For the past 11 years, we have highlighted during CineAsia the contributions of various individuals throughout the Asia-Pacific region whose tireless work has served to educate consumers and policy makers in their markets about the value of screen content, and the need to provide a strong copyright framework for filmmakers.

The Asia Pacific Copyright Educator (ACE) Award is a natural extension of the MPA’s core objective to promote and protect screen communities through a better understanding of the creative process and the economic benefits resulting from strong intellectual-property rights protection. Nowhere is this objective more relevant than in the Asia-Pacific region.

APAC remains the shining light on the world’s box-office stage, with revenues up five percent in 2016 to a total of USD 14.9 billion. China itself accounts for an estimated USD 6.6 billion of that amount and is now the single biggest market for cinema exhibition outside of the United States, by a healthy margin. Seven of the other top 20 international box-office markets for all films—namely, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong—are also in Asia-Pacific, where regional gate revenues have collectively increased by 44 percent over the past five years.

Asia is indeed the global epicenter for world cinema exhibition. The screen count throughout the region experienced an 18 percent growth in 2016, with more than 66,000 screens now in operation. More than 90 percent of those screens are digital—in fact, there are now more digital screens in Asia than in the rest of the world, combined—and 78 percent of those screens are 3D (the highest proportion in the world).

Clearly, people throughout the region share a healthy appetite for filmed entertainment and enjoy going to the movies. Asia remains, for all intents and purposes, a bright spot for film distribution and exhibition. It’s certainly an industry sector worth protecting.

The economic contribution reports commissioned by the MPA throughout the region further confirm the value that the movie and television industries provide to local economies. In 2016, for example, the film production, distribution, and exhibition sector in China supported more than 4.1 million jobs throughout the country, contributing a total USD 86.3 billion to the country’s GDP and tax revenues of USD 15.9 billion.

Yet still the industry faces its challenges, and exhibition revenues in Asia are detrimentally impacted by intolerably high levels of copyright piracy. It’s impossible for any legitimate business to compete with free. Ironically, all too often the problem begins right in the very place it hurts the most and at the worst possible time, when front-line releases are camcorded in theatres during their opening release and uploaded onto the Internet. Last year, 93 different audio and video camcord releases of MPA titles were traced back to cinemas throughout the region.

Unfortunately, too many jurisdictions throughout the region still have insufficient laws and regulations on their books to effectively address unauthorized camcording. Here again, the MPA’s initiatives with governments throughout the region include raising awareness about the problem and its impact on their local businesses and national economies, and offering assistance filling any legislative gaps or deficiencies found to exist.

Although the stalled Trans Pacific Partnership agreement’s negotiated text contained helpful anti-camcording provisions that could have served as a cornerstone foundation for best international practices, sadly there has been no further legislative progress in this regard throughout the region over the past 12 months. This is particularly concerning because camcorded films have historically been the source for the vast majority of movie infringement found online.

However, it is in the area of online infringement that we seem to be experiencing a new sense of enlightenment, sensibility and cooperation. Site blocking has emerged as an uncomplicated, cost-effective and judicially defensible tool that so far hasn’t broken the Internet. By now, more than 40 countries around the world, including seven in Asia, have enacted and implemented specific laws, regulations and judicial procedures intended to cut off the supply of pirated content at its source by preventing Internet subscribers from accessing significantly infringing sites.

Jurisdictions including Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand now all engage in site-blocking against copyright-infringing sites either through specific legislative provisions within their copyright laws involving either a judicial or administrative determination and a prescribed remedy, without any of the baggage historically associated with it.

The new view towards so-called “no-fault” site blocking—in which the ISP’s liability for the underlying infringements of its customers is put aside to achieve an expeditious and effective remedy—has served to tone down much of the inflammatory rhetoric that previously characterized any discussion about the issue. Sentiments between rights holders and ISPs about site blocking have historically been contentious (and in a number of instances, litigious) in a number of territories. But this sentiment was based largely on immutable, theoretical views between opposing parties concerning legal responsibility for the underlying infringements taking place over the Internet

The latest wave of legislation and regulatory oversight therefore removes that factor from the equation, and focuses instead on fashioning an appropriate and practical means to prevent further infringement supported by due process and subject to an authoritative mandate.

When legislation within this context was enacted in Singapore in late 2014, we saw content providers, cinema exhibitors, pay-TV providers and ISPs all working together on public education, awareness initiatives, messaging and operational capacity. For the first time in a long time, industry representatives sat at the same table for a series of open and frank discussions about what could, and could not, be done cooperatively to fight back against the truly bad guys.

Similar legislation adopted in Australia in 2015 engendered better dialogue and a renewed sense of partnership there. And once again content providers and exhibitors worked cooperatively with ISPs and others to implement a shared objective. Last December, the Federal Court in Australia granted orders against four popular torrent sites, which effectively operate more than 61 infringing URLs between them, and in August the Court issued a second wave of blocking orders against another 68 sites. Not a single ISP in Australia opposed either motion, proving that it is possible for parties to cooperate with each other if they truly want to.

Cooperative efforts between content providers and the advertisers have also taken hold over the past year in various regional territories in an attempt to cut off the revenue flow, sometimes provided unwittingly by legitimate businesses, to pirate website operators.

None of this comes easy, though, and it usually requires an enormous amount of time, effort, and persistence to educate both industry and government representatives, as well as the general public, about the importance of protecting the creative industries. Recognizing individuals throughout Asia who champion important issues such as these in their national territories by honoring them during a gathering of the international screen community thus provides a meaningful synergy of purpose between the MPA ACE Award and the annual CineAsia conference.

This year, we’re pleased to honor the co-CEO of Village Roadshow, Graham Burke, for his selfless dedication to enhancing creators’ rights in Australia. No one in Australia has been as committed or as vocal about the valuable contributions that our industry provides to the world community. With ambassadors such as him, and our previous MPA ACE Award winners, enlisted into the cause, the MPA is proud to carry on promoting and protecting screen communities everywhere.

Mike Ellis is president and managing director, Motion Picture Association Asia-Pacific Region.