The Pirates Strike Back


In 1908 a group of American companies involved in the nascent motion picture industry, including Thomas Edison’s Edison Manufacturing Company and film supplier Kodak, formed the Motion Picture Patents Company.

The MPPC’s brief was to enforce the patents on the film making equipment developed by Edison. Groups of independent film makers in New York and New Jersey had been pirating equipment produced by Edison to make their own wildly popular films.

In order to be out of the reach of the MPCC, who were known to break into studios and confiscate unlicensed equipment, these independent film makers fled to the other side of the country, in particular an area near Los Angeles called Hollywood.

In 1918 the MPCC fell foul of federal anti-monopoly laws and the independents were free to flourish in the California sunshine. These former pirates formed the basis for the pillars of today’s media-industrial complex like Time Warner, Disney and Fox.

Being part of the establishment must affect your long time memory because in 2012 the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the big Hollywood studios, supported the Stop Online Piracy Act in a Canutesque attempt to stop the flood of downloaded movies and TV shows.

So just to recap, a hundred years before the MPAA was battling the pirates, the MPPC was battling pirates. The letters change but it still spells the same thing.

I imagine the ghost of Edison visiting current Warner Brothers chairman Barry M. Meyer and whispering “We’re not so different, you and I” but instead of giving a Big Noooooooo, Meyer just pours Edison a glass of scotch while they laugh maniacally.

So what does this historical progression say about the tech companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook which opposed SOPA and the MPAA?

They start of all edgy and progressive by supporting gay marriage but eventually they are hosting fundraisers for Republican politicians and featuring in comedies were the guy gets the girl.

The only difference between The Internship and the glorified ad for the US military that is Top Gun is Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn have nowhere near as much sexual tension as Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

Mark 2108 in your iCalendars dear reader. That is when I predict the Media Programmes Entertainment Association – an industry body represent tech conglomerates like YouTwitFace and AppleGooSoft and – will begin a campaign against the uber-hip nanotech firms which let you download entertainment directly into your brain. The MPEA’s slogan is “Stop the pirates: illegally injecting movies is a crime”.
After the launch YouTwitFace chief executive Anand Subramanian raises a glass as the cybernetic remains of Rupert Murdoch intones “truly the student has surpassed the teacher”.

Meanwhile the ghost of Karl Marx, who conscientiously objected to both heaven and hell and has been haunting the British Library ever since, throws up has spiritual hands and thinks “I was right, this is a farce”.

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