How the MPAA Works

MPAA and Lobbying

As a trade organization, one of the chief missions of the Motion Picture Organization of America (MPAA) is to lobby elected officials and government agencies on behalf of its members, the large movie studios. Jack Valenti, who served as president of the MPAA for 40 years, began his career as a close aide to President Lyndon Johnson and became a fixture in Washington, D.C. as Hollywood's "top lobbyist" [source: Breznican].

In 2010, the MPAA spent $1.66 million on federal lobbying, focusing its attention on the U.S. president, congressional leaders, and the Departments of Justice, Commerce and State, as well as the Patent and Trademark Office.

Anti-piracy has been a recurring theme of the MPAA's lobbying efforts. In the early 1980s, Jack Valenti famously railed against the VCR as a tool of movie pirates. Lucky for Valenti, his congressional testimony didn't sway legislators; VHS became a huge moneymaker for Hollywood [source: Barro].

The MPAA rallied behind its sister organization, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to fight against P2P file-sharing sites like Napster and Grokster and prosecute individual perpetrators. Thanks in part to MPAA lobbying, a provision was written into the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 stating that any college or university that accepts federal student financial aid must develop and implement a plan to combat illegal file-sharing on the school's computer network [source: MPAA].

In 2011 and early 2012, the MPAA fought a very public lobbying battle in support of two pieces of legislation aimed at curbing online piracy: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT-IP [source: O'Leary]. SOPA in particular drew widespread outcry from the Web community over charges that the law would allow copyright holders to block access to Web sites without a court order or even a cease and desist letter [source: Plumer]. On January 18, 2012, Web sites like Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Wordpress went "dark" in a massive online protest -- the world's largest -- against SOPA. Congress quickly dropped the legislation.

Since online piracy is a global epidemic, the MPAA has regional offices in five countries outside the U.S., and it partners with antipiracy organizations in more than 30 countries to lobby for tougher intellectual property protection worldwide [source: MPAA].

For lots more information on the movie industry and government lobbying, check out the related HowStuffWorks links below.

Author's Note: How the MPAA Works

As an avoid movie-watcher (mostly on my laptop screen, sadly), I think that movie ratings play an important -- if sometimes subconscious -- role in the marketing of a movie. We have three young children, and even the older ones have been known to cry during movies if it appears that the hero of the story has been hurt. As parents, my wife and I know that our kids simply cannot handle anything beyond a G rating, and we trust the MPAA to label those movies correctly. For myself, I admit that it's hard for me to take a movie seriously unless it's rated R. I don't go for lots of violence and nudity, but I like realistic dialogue in movies, and people tend to swear a lot in real life. An R for language is a signal to me that this is a movie for adults. And that's why bedtime is 8:30 sharp.

Related Articles


  • Barro, Josh. Forbes. "Thirty Years Before SOPA, MPAA Feared the VCR." January 18, 2012. (Nov. 9, 2012)
  • Bowles, Scott. USA Today. "Debating the MPAA's Mission." April 10, 2007 (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • Breznican, Anthony. USA Today. "Jack Valenti Dies at 85." April 27, 2007 (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • Burr, Ty. The Boston Globe. "Curious history of rating NC-17." December 4, 2011. (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • Federal Trade Commission. "FTC Renews Call to Entertainment Industry to Curb Marketing of Violent Entertainment to Children." December 3, 2009 (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • U.S. Supreme Court Center. "Ginsberg v. New York (1968)" [Nov. 9, 2012]
  • McCullagh, Declan. CNET. "MPAA: No MegaUpload data access without safeguards." October 30, 2012. (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • Mondello, Bob. National Public Radio. "Remembering Hollywood's Hays Code, 40 Years On." August 8, 2008. (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • MPAA. The Classification and Ratings Administration. "Advertising Rules" [Nov. 9, 2012]
  • MPAA. The Classification and Ratings Administration. "Camcorder Laws" [Nov. 9, 2012]
  • MPAA. The Classification and Ratings Administration. "FAQs" [Nov. 9, 2012]
  • MPAA. The Classification and Ratings Administration. "The Movie Rating System: Its History, How it Works and Its Enduring Value." December 21, 2010.
  • MPAA. The Classification and Ratings Administration. "Public Performance Law" [Nov. 9, 2012]
  • MPAA. The Classification and Ratings Administration. "Submittal Agreement" [Nov. 9, 2012].
  • MPAA. Theatrical Marketing Statistics. (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • Nash Information Services. "Domestic Movie Theatrical Market Summary 1995 to 2012" [Nov. 9, 2012]
  • Newkirk, Zachary. "Ex-Sen. Chris Dodd Takes a Spin Through the Revolving Door to Motion Picture Association of America." March 1, 2011. (Nov. 9, 2012)
  • O'Leary, Michael. MPAA Blog. "Targeting Internet Piracy Will Preserve American Jobs, Encourage Innovation and Uphold Free Speech." Nov. 28, 2011 (Nov. 9, 2012)
  • Plumer, Brad. The Washington Post. "Everything you need to know about Congress' online piracy bills, in one post." December 16, 2011. (Nov. 9, 2012)
  • Sacks, Ethan. New York Daily News. "MPAA gives 'Bully' a PG-13 rating after compromise." April 5, 2012 (Nov. 9, 2012)
  • Windolf, Jim. Vanity Fair. "Q&A: Steven Spielberg." Jan. 2, 2008 (Nov. 9, 2012).
  • Zeitchik, Steven. Los Angeles Times. "'Bully': Does going unrated solve anything?" March 27, 2012. (Nov. 9, 2012).