How the MPAA Works

The MPAA and Movie Piracy

We're not talking about this kind of movie piracy!  But Johnny Depp's movie did receive a PG-13 rating for "Intense Sequences of Adventure Violence."
We're not talking about this kind of movie piracy! But Johnny Depp's movie did receive a PG-13 rating for "Intense Sequences of Adventure Violence."
Brad Barket/Getty Images

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is a trade organization created to advocate and fight for the interest of its members, the six major Hollywood movie studios:

  • Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
  • Paramount Pictures Corporation
  • Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc.
  • Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
  • Universal City Studios LLC
  • Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The MPAA and its members consider movie piracy, particularly the sharing of illegal files on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, to be the biggest threat to the film industry. To fight piracy, the MPAA actively lobbies the U.S. and foreign governments to write and enforce stricter laws against intellectual property theft.

At first glance, the movie industry is hardly suffering economically. Annual revenue from theatrical ticket sales now tops $10 billion, but fewer people are going to the movies than a decade ago [source: Nash Information Services]. Studios increasingly rely on digital distribution -- online downloads, streaming and digital rentals -- to make up for flat ticket sales. If digital piracy is allowed to flourish, the MPAA believes that 2.4 million American jobs could be at risk [source: MPAA].

The MPAA has helped create anti-piracy laws to combat several forms of intellectual property theft:

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) theft -- The MPAA helped push through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to criminalize the sharing of illegal digital files over decentralized P2P networks.
  • Camcorder theft -- The majority of pirated movies -- both digital files and bootleg copies sold on the street -- are recorded directly off the screen by a video camera. "Camcordering" is a federal felony in the U.S. and 41 states enforce their own laws [source: MPAA].
  • Signal theft -- Stealing cable or buying a satellite descrambler to get free access to premium movie channels is certainly against the law.
  • Illegal public performance -- This one is surprising to many people, but not if you read the FBI warning screen on every DVD. It's against the law to publicly exhibit a purchased or rented movie outside of your home. Technically, if you want to show a movie to the kids at your church, you need to buy a public performance license [source: MPAA].

The MPAA has been a vocal advocate for prosecuting both the owners and users of illegal file-sharing Web sites. In 2012, the MPAA filed an amicus brief (or "friend of the court" statement) supporting the Justice Department's piracy suit of Kim Dotcom, the owner and operator of MegaUpload, a "cloud storage" site that's allegedly a repository for pirated movies [source: McCullagh].