Several influential entertainment industry trade groups, including the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Screen Actors Guild, seem to think that the nation's security is at risk because of DVD and CD piracy.
In a plea to the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, the group pitched some seemingly odd ideas about how they think the government should prevent piracy. Among their proposals are calls for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to arrange preventative measures to combat piracy before major motion pictures are released.
"The planned release of a blockbuster motion picture should be acknowledged as an event that attracts the focused efforts of copyright thieves, who will seek to obtain and distribute pre-release versions and/or to undermine legitimate release by unauthorized distribution through other channels," the document says. "Enforcement agencies (notably within DOJ and DHS) should plan a similarly focused preventive and responsive strategy."
Keeping America Safe . . . From Pirates?
But does piracy really fall under the Department of Homeland Security's mission? The agency, founded in 2002, aims to "keep America safe," primarily by preventing terrorist attacks within the U.S. and assisting in the recovery from terrorist attacks "that occur within the United States." Based on its mission alone, one might assume that piracy falls under the domain of domestic law enforcement.
Not so, says Pat Reilly, spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a department within the Department of Homeland Security.
"We definitely go after pirates," Reilly says. "We're constantly picking up pirated CDs and DVDs. People often ask, 'Why are you picking up counterfeit t-shirts when you should be looking for terrorists?' But the Department of Homeland Security is made up of 22 components. Ours is the traditional customs service, and we're the largest investigative arm of the DHS."
Pirated DVD Sales and Terrorism
This isn't the first time the MPAA has tried to link film piracy with national security, though. In a 2009 study funded by the MPAA, the RAND group concluded that organized crime and terrorism are funded by pirated DVD sales. The report argued that countless mobsters around the world, from Russia to Malaysia, and in a variety of gangs including the Big Circle Boys in Canada and the Camorra Mafia in Italy, have relied upon pirated goods to fund illegal activities.
Critics argue that relying upon the Department of Homeland Security to organize pirated DVD busts is not the most efficient use of government funds. Among the most notable busts listed on the ICE site over the last two years, is a seizure of approximately 1,500 pirated DVDs at a convenience store in Bakersfield, Calif.
To be fair, that's only one of the most recent busts -- there certainly are bigger, more brag-worthy: Six years ago, for example, ICE seized 210,000 pirated DVDs in China as part of an ongoing investigation. And in 2007, ICE seized 90,000 pirated CDs and DVDs at a flea market in Puerto Rico.
Illegal Legal Tactics?
Still, there's a question of whether the MPAA and RIAA are hogging up government resources for their own interests. The RIAA, has filed thousands of lawsuits against John Does, which often amount to woefully tiny settlements, if the lawsuits aren't ignored altogether. Further, some question the legality of the RIAA's legal tactics. In one complaint filed against music labels Sony, Electra, BMG and Motown, Shahanda Noelle Moursy argued that the record companies are "abusing the federal court judicial system for the purpose of waging a public relations and public threat campaign targeting digital file sharing activities."
Her complaint argued that the damages sought by the labels -- at $750 per song -- are unconstitutional, representing roughly 974 times the actual damages, assuming the market value of each song is 99 cents, and the labels' profits on the sale of a single track are typically about 77 cents per song.
Is CD Piracy a Matter for Homeland Security?