What happens when an organization that is best known for inveighing against the unauthorized copying of movies gets caught doing exactly that? The Motion Picture Association of America was caught with its pants down, admitting to making unauthorized copies of the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated in advance of this week's Sundance Film Festival.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated looks at the motion picture ratings system created and run by the MPAA. Director Kirby **** submitted the film for rating in November. After receiving the movie, the MPAA subsequently made copies without ****'s permission. **** had specifically requested in an e-mail that the MPAA not make copies of the movie. The MPAA responded by saying that "the confidentiality of your film is our first priority."
**** later learned that the MPAA made copies of the film to distribute them to its employees, despite the MPAA's stance on unauthorized copying. Ah, there's nothing like the smell of hypocrisy in the morning-apparently the prohibition against copying films without the copyright owner's consent doesn't apply to the MPAA. A lawyer for the MPAA justified the organization's apparent hypocrisy by saying that **** had invaded the privacy of some MPAA staffers, which justified the MPAA's actions.
"We made a copy of Kirby's movie because it had implications for our employees," said Kori Bernards, the MPAA's vice president for corporate communications. She said **** spied on the members of the MPAA's Classification and Rating Administration, including going through their garbage and following them as they drove their children to school.
A little background: This Film looks at how the rating system functions, specifically at how some types of content are treated differently by the MPAA. **** feels that the MPAA is full of—surprise—double standards, especially when it comes to how they treat graphic violence vs. ***ual content, hetero***ual vs. homo***ual ***, and big-studio vs. independent films. As part of the documentary's creation, **** trailed and identified some of the previously anonymous members of the ratings board. ****'s conduct became a cause for concern for both the MPAA and its employees, leading to their calling the police on some occasions.
According to Mark Lemley, a professor at the Stanford Law School, the MPAA may have been within its rights to make copies of the film. Given that the MPAA's intent isn't financial gain and that the whole situation may rise above the level of trading barbs through the media into legal action, making a copy may be justified. Personally, I can't see any justification for an organization such as the MPAA ignoring a directive from a copyright owner, but IANAL. A "digital version" of the movie was submitted for screening, according to ****'s attorney, Michael Donaldson. If that digital version turns out to be a DVD, the MPAA could also find itself in hot water for violating the DMCA. Oh, the irony! Either way, the MPAA can't be happy about being put into a position where they are forced to justify the same actions they decry when undertaken by a consumer.
It's difficult to see how This Film Is Not Yet Rated—which ended up with an NC-17 rating for graphic ***ual content—is being harmed. If nothing else, **** is reaping a bountiful crop of free publicity on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival. The MPAA's decision to make copies of the film without the copyright-holder's permission reinforces the documentary's message that the MPAA's actions often reek of self-interest and hypocrisy.