At USC Law symposium, Bob Iger saves sharp words for pirate-enablers

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At USC Law symposium, Bob Iger saves sharp words for pirate-enablers

Sun Oct 18, 2009 @ 02:24AM PST

By Matthew Belloni

Iger Walt Disney Co. chief executive Bob Iger believes technology companies are winning the PR war at the expense of Hollywood, and the result could make it tougher to police illegal activity online.

Iger made the comments during a keynote chat with talent attorney Bruce Ramer today at the annual Institute on Entertainment Law & Business presented by USC Law School and the Beverly Hills Bar Assn.

"New technology is great, but it has to be used in a responsible way that respects the talent and the investment in creativity," Iger told the luncheon crowd of 600--a record for the annual event, according to Ramer. "I don't think our industry has been as effective as it needs to be on the subject. The tech industry is doing a better job of articulating excitement around technology than we are about how a business that is so vital to the United States is potentially in peril."

Iger called piracy "the biggest problem the industry faces," echoing superagent Ari Emanuel's comments from earlier in the day. "It's not getting better and it will get worse."

The Disney exec touched on several of his favorite topics during his hour-long talk with Ramer, including the freefall of the DVD market, the challenge of global expansion and the shortening of home video windows. But he reserved his most pointed comments for those resisting the industry's efforts to strengthen content protection laws.   

"In some of the discussions we had about making sure that net neutrality regulations enabled ISPs to go after those that were using the Internet illegally, people actually had the audacity to ask us whether we'd be willing to trade that for some form of shortened copyright," Iger said. "I don't know why the two are linked at all. I still have not heard a decent argument that suggests that shortening copyright increases creativity. You hear that a lot. I won't name names, but there's one guy I could easily name."  

Hmm. Larry Lessig? Anybody on staff at the Electronic Frontier Foundation? We don't want to put words in Iger's mouth.  

When asked if Disney--which was instrumental in helping pass the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (the law some called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act because it lengthened Disney's control over its pride and joy)--would pursue a further extension of the term of copyright, Iger seemed less enthusiastic. "I don't know that I see a long-term extension," he said. "But hopefully there won't be legislation aimed at shortening, either."  

Iger avoided talking about his recent axing of studio chairman Dick Cook or the downsizing of specialty outpost Miramax, saying only that he had "made some personnel changes recently."

But when asked by Ramer whether installing former Disney Channel Worldwide president Rich Ross atop the film division means the studio head now functions as a brand manager, Iger said: "The studio head today--the primary responsibility, aside from creating value for the shareholders, is to choose good movies. I also think it's really important that the person who's making those decisions has a business sense as well. They go hand in hand, creativity and business. At Disney, that person is a brand manager because the primary focus of the studio is...Disney-branded movies."

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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