You Can’t Call 911: @jyunger of @MillenniumFilms Tells Senate Why Piracy is Still a Problem and How U.S. has Failed to Lead

The most powerful testimony to legislators is not from the approved academics and it’s not from the overfed lobbyists or wealthy campaign donors.  Jonathan Yunger’s personal and powerful testimony on the March 10 hearing before the Senate Intellectual Property Subcommittee was very persuasive.  I wish it were news, but as Mr. Yunger told the Senate, it’s really not.

The purpose of the hearing was not immediately obvious from the title–Tuesday’s hearing is part of a series of hearings that Senator Tillis is conducting to gather information from the public about the functioning of the DMCA.  After suffering through the usual unremarkable and predictable drivel and spin from Google shills like Pamela Samuelson and Daphne Keller, Mr. Yunger’s testimony was a much needed shot of reality.

I’m going to excerpt some quotes from his written statement which was at time a life preserver floating through the overflowing sewage from the swamp that meandered through the hearing.  Mr. Yunger came the closest to saying two things that need to be said to the Congress over and over and over again until they get it–first, y’all created this mess and you left it to us to clean up.  You need to pick up a broom and help us sweep up behind the elephants in the circus of your making.  But also, Google is a racketeering organization that needs to be investigated by people with badges.  There’s a reason why Eric Schmidt refused to answer questions at the Senate before–it’s called taking the 5th.  He had a reason.

schmidt senate

I would like to thank Chairman Tillis and Ranking Member Coons for leading these important hearings on the DMCA, 22 years after this vital legislation became law. My name is Jonathan Yunger.  I am Co-President of Millennium Media, one of the largest independent film production companies in the world. Our filmsinclude franchises like The Expendables, Hellboy, Rambo, the“Has Fallen”Series, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard. We develop, produce, and self-finance our own content. Our box office has generated a total of over $1 billion.  Our industry, with the other core copyright industries, together contribute $1.3 trillion annually to the U.S. GDP and employ over 5.7 million Americans.

So, this is not just about entertainment, it is about a very important economic driver for this country and its citizens. Piracy is an existential threat to our business and the livelihoods of all the individual creatives who work so hard to bring entertainment to audiences.

Piracy competes unfairly with the legitimate marketplace and destroys the economic basis of creativity. For the past two decades, the plague of digital piracy has been stealing jobs from hardworking Americans.  The truth is that the battle against piracy has only intensified since the DMCA became law, with too little progress to show for it.

At first, the tornado of piracy blew through the music industry–ultimately cutting that industry’s revenues by half –but then it continued its destructive path through photography, film, television, journalism, and book publishing. Anything that could be distributed digitally online was stolen and monetized by criminals, facilitated by some of the world’s wealthiest internet companies including Google, its now-sibling YouTube, and Facebook.

Mr. Yunger makes the important point that piracy is still an existential threat to the creative industries and that the Congress needs to work as hard to reduce piracy as creators do to contribute to the U.S. economy.

[The Section 230 and DMCA] safe harbors created a harmful assumption, and a reality, that copyright infringement was allowed on the internet unless and until a copyright owner found it and objected. As a result, the scale of criminal activity online is so immense, so pervasive and destructive, that current safe harbors, at least as applied to the biggest global digital platforms and intermediaries, cannot be seen as anything but a failure.

And, this global criminal piracy ecosystem is directly competing with our films in markets around the world –to the detriment of Americans here at home. Under current U.S. law, Google has become one of the largest companies in the world in part by leveraging free infringing content into eyeballs and advertising revenue through its search results and its streaming service YouTube.

Just for some context: The last time we did a comprehensive accounting of our films on YouTube, in June 2018, we found over 200 pirated versions of our titles on the platform. These films had been viewed over 110 million times. In just that one month! And, by Google’s own admission, it receives almost 900 million takedown notices from copyright holders each year.

As I have often said, Google is the only company in commercial history where being told you are screwing up 900 million times a year is a feature, not a bug.  The Google search algorithm is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do–it is supposed to leverage infringing content, it is supposed to drive up transaction costs and it is supposed to wear down the creative community.  Because let’s not forget–the 900 million notices are a fraction of the number of infringing content.  Google has been caught 900 million times a year.  The unchallenged infringements are far more than 900 million to Google’s unimaginably great profit.

Mr. Yunger’s testimony was very important for the Senate to hear.  He politely–probably through grinding his teeth, but politely–told them they created this problem and they need to fix it.

Why wouldn’t the U.S. be a leader in preventing access to our market by sites that are clearly illegal, taking money out of the hands of American workers and industry alike? Given that we now have years of experience around the world and have seen different approaches, it is time to evaluate what works and what does not –to protect the interests of American creatives, the American economy, and the American public.

Please do not shy away from this important task. We must again be the gold standard of copyright protections for all other countries around the world.

Silicon Valley’s campaign against copyright is never-ending. Google spent more money lobbying the federal government last year than any other American company–fighting, among other things, to erode copyright protections in the U.S. and around the world.

Today, Google makes more money than all of the major movie studios and television networks combined. They do not need weaker laws to allow the profitable piracy of our creative work on their platforms. They just need the status quo.

I do not understand why Google and other Big Tech companies would continue to justify their own role, and that of pirates, in destroying the value of American creativity.

They need to stop.

We need Congress’ help to lift the members of the creative community out of their indentured service to these internet giants and the global criminals they help, and once again give them control over their work and how it is distributed online.

Mr. Yunger is entirely correct–it is not just that creators lose money to piracy, the piracy infrastructure is a racketeering operation that results in an income transfer from creators to Google.

Google Ad Revenue Graph 2001-2019

As we styled the last Artist Rights Symposium, “who you gonna call?” Can creators call 911?  If your car is being stolen off the street you have a greater chance of protection by law enforcement than if your life’s work is being stolen online.

In order to break through the lobbyist mumble tank (best exemplified by the truly horrific testimony from CCIA’s Matt Schruers, a long time enemy of artists), the Congress needs to hear clear and persuasive facts from creators like Jonathan Yunger.