Martha Roby: Digital piracy – why it matters to our state.

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[Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com]

I have always held a deep appreciation for the musicians, songwriters, television, and film producers who work hard to create the music, songs, shows, and movies people around the world know and love. At one point in my life, I even aspired to work in the Nashville music industry, which I ended up doing for period of time, but God had a different plan for my life long-term.

Now, this dream has come full circle. With my role in Congress, I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, where I am in a unique position to advocate for the core copyright industries and related workforce that contribute so much to our economy and our culture. Just recently, the Judiciary Committee held a Copyright Office oversight hearing to focus on this issue that is critical to our economy. According to the International Intellectual Property Alliance, core copyright industries, like music, television, and film, contribute more than $1 trillion to our country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and make up almost seven percent of the economy.

In Alabama specifically, the music industry contributes $636.09 million to the GDP and supports more than 14,000 jobs. The motion picture and television industry is responsible for more than 10,200 jobs and $387 million total wages in our state. There are 958 music businesses in Alabama and nearly 720 motion picture and television businesses, including 381 production-related companies.

So, you see, these industries have a significant impact on the economy, both on a state level and on the national level, but unfortunately, these hardworking, creative professionals don’t always receive the recognition and compensation they deserve due to several factors that we’re tackling in the House Judiciary Committee. First and foremost, we must work to ensure our copyright laws are up-to-date and address the needs of today’s hyper-connected, digital world. Many of these laws are decades old and no longer function as they were intended. This subject was covered in-depth in our recent committee hearing.

Still, even when copyright status is in place, and even with the rise of legal streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, creative industries face significant challenges with illegal piracy in this digital age. A quick Internet search of the word “piracy” yields the following definition: the unauthorized use or reproduction of another’s work. The definition also includes a handful of synonyms, like illegal reproduction, plagiarism, copyright infringement, stealing, and theft.

In our efforts to combat piracy and ensure the creative industry receives the compensation it deserves, we face several major hurdles: 1) It is shockingly easy to download, stream, and reproduce almost any movie, television show, song, etc. with a quick Internet search. 2) Since it is so easy and so common, some people don’t even realize they are doing anything wrong, much less committing a crime. 3) Sometimes, even when people know they’re doing something wrong, they don’t view it as being “that big of a deal.” But, illegally downloading and streaming someone else’s creative content is a big deal, and I would like to take this opportunity to explain why it matters.

Many, many more people and entities besides just big-name celebrities are involved in creating music, television shows, and movies. In fact, these creative industries support thousands of indirect jobs that most of us probably wouldn’t even think of. Consider a movie set, for example. From a personnel standpoint, all types of professionals are necessary to make a movie happen, from camera crews and lighting specialists to script writers, makeup and hair artists, florists, caterers, seamstresses, and the men and women who perform manual labor to build and take down sets. This doesn’t even account for the many dollars’ worth of materials required to put together any given movie set.

I say all this to make the point that when an individual illegally streams, downloads, or shares creative content, they are stealing from all the many hardworking people who offer their labor, skills, and products to make a song, movie, or show happen – and most of these people aren’t the lead actor or actress; most of them go unnoticed at the very end of the long credits list. Of the more the 10,000 jobs in Alabama supported by the motion picture and television industry, the vast majority of them aren’t actors and actresses, but rather the many other professionals that don’t immediately come to mind.

As we continue to enjoy our favorite music, movies and television shows, I hope we all strive to be responsible and ethical consumers, being mindful and cautious when using the Internet to download and stream to make sure we are only obtaining these creative works legally. Many Americans and Alabamians are severely and negatively impacted by illegal piracy, and I will remain engaged with this issue in my role on the House Judiciary Committee to ensure we are fiercely combatting these copyright infringements while improving the industry for its many hardworking individuals.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.