The latest installment of the Star Wars saga broke box office records this past weekend, grossing $247 million in ticket sales in North America. This exceeds by $30 million the previous opening weekend record set this past June by Jurassic World. The Force Awakens also generated $280 million overseas, not including China, where the film will be released in January. The film’s enormous success teaches us numerous lessons about copyright policy. Yesterday’s post discussed how the Star Wars saga demonstrates the degree to which creative works rely on pre-existing works, thereby highlighting the importance of limitations and exceptions in copyright law. This post will focus on how the film’s huge revenues undermine entertainment industry claims that online infringement causes significant harm necessitating legislative reform.
1. The film’s domestic ticket sales undermine the narrative that infringement facilitated by digital networks is causing serious harm to the entertainment industry generally, and the film industry in particular. As recently as the listening tour sessions the House Judiciary Committee held last month in Silicon Valley and Hollywood last month as part of its copyright review, entertainment industry representatives called for legislative reform to strengthen enforcement tools against online infringement. The success of The Force Awakens, like that of Jurassic World earlier this year, calls into question the necessity of items on the entertainment industry wish-list, such as replacing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “notice and takedown” with “notice and staydown.” This is particularly the case given the collateral damage website blocking can have on Internet architecture and freedom of expression.
As I pointed out in DisCo earlier this year, film executives, as opposed to their representatives in Washington, really don’t believe the narrative that Internet-based infringement poses an existential threat. Variety interviewed 22 industry leaders about the most pressing problems confronting the movie and television business. Nineteen of the 22 made no mention whatsoever of copyright infringement, and two mentioned infringement only in passing. (Neutral equity research reports on firms in copyright intensive industries likewise did not identify copyright infringement as a possible risk factor.) Instead, the film executives focused on cord-cutting and competition from other forms of entertainment.