Jon Lewis on Intellectual Property

Jon Lewis's talk at today's seminar was on Hollywood's public relations and lobbying practices to secure intellectual property enforcement. Taking a Jack Valenti quote, its title, "'If You Can't Protect What You Own, You Don't Own Anything': Piracy, Privacy and Public Relations in 21st Century Hollywood" may suggest some of Lewis's polemic: that the universalizing rhetoric of Hollywood's public relations around both piracy and the ownership of the text merely disguises Hollwyood's lobbying efforts and the multiple forms the text takes in the current Hollywood. As in other of his work he shows how a censorship body, the MPAA, actually has the charge of an industrial promotion and public relations arm. I suspected that Lewis was preaching to a converted audience who already view intellectual property claims with high suspicion. Nonetheless, his talk had a knack for giving a seamless overview of the industry's public relations practices over the last two decades and their place in an overall economic trajectory of the industry. Since I've at times wrestled with how to treat Hollywood's public relations practices of the postwar years in my own scholarship, I appreciated hearing his approach for understanding contemporary political activity of the industry.

In his response, Peter Decherny (whose book I reviewed recently), agreed with Lewis's overall picture but offered some counterevidence of moments in which the industry's hold on Congress and the public has been less than ideal from its perspective.

These are all interesting questions to tease out, certainly to make me realize how premature and half-baked my recent posts on policy questions were. Scholars, including Decherney across town, are very much working on policy concerns of intellectual property within the framework of film studies.

On a related matter, I should point to the news that Chuck Tryon is all over: the US copyright office has announced an exemption to allow film and media professors to copy clips from DVDs for educational compilations.


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