Vote against #SOPA with your pocketbooks: Boycott the Box Office

That money in politics you’re always complaining about, it’s yours. Take it back!

Our government is way broken. As citizens, we need to fix it fundamentally. And until then, the Internet industry needs to get better at playing by today’s broken rules. But in the case of SOPA/PIPA (also see this great infographic), there isn’t time to fight lobbying fire with lobbying fire, and the notion that emailing and Tweeting at Congress is our best shot of battling entrenched special interests is naive IMHO.

Yesterday we saw a great example of how grassroots online organization can focus our collective economic leverage into influence and results. But before we all go patting ourselves on our collective backs, let’s be honest: this was a gimme — an Internet business dumb enough to thumb their nose at their core customers, and who could ultimately be swayed by a chorus of angry digerati. I applaud the spirit of the GoDaddy boycott, and even participated, but I want us to parlay this small win into something much more meaningful. Let’s not stop at the pawns, let’s strike at the root of support for SOPA/PIPA: the entertainment industry.

More specifically, we need to kneecap the MPAA. Once you understand the motivations of the players involved, the logic of how we can put an end to this nonsense is relatively straightforward. The MPAA is a trade group that represents and is funded by the 6 major film studios (Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, Fox, Sony, and Paramount). It has an annual budget, determined by its members, that has been shrinking since 2009. The recently appointed new head of the MPAA, former Senator Chris Dodd, is pulling down more than $2 million a year to turn the organization around, which means convincing the studios that they should increase its funding. Not to be overly-cynical here, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch that a former Senator being paid a ton of money in the private sector might seize on Congressional legislation highly favorable to the industry he now represents as the quickest way to prove his (and his organization’s) worth.

I am convinced that the management of the studios don’t really care that much about SOPA/PIPA. If they thought anti-piracy legislation was important, they wouldn’t have been slashing the budget of their lobbying organization over the last several years: in 2007 the MPAA’s overall annual budget was $93 million, in 2009 it was down to $64 million; and within the MPAA itself, the money spent on lobbying went from $2.7 million in 2008 to $1.7 million in 2010. This legislation is even worse than what everyone thinks — it’s not being driven by the needs of a single industry, it’s being driven by the needs of a single industry *trade group*. The studios support it because they’ve been told it will be good for them (even though anyone who knows anything about technology knows it will do little to actually stop piracy) and because there’s no additional cost to them other than what they’ve already sunk into the MPAA’s annual budget. Let’s change that!

If we can show the studios that this ineffective legislation that only succeeds in being hostile to their customers is going to cost them money, I believe they’ll rein in Dodd and the MPAA right quick and that would be the end for SOPA/PIPA. The good news is we have a clear path for demonstrating that cost because, even though these guys may not read the bills they’re paying to have written, they watch their weekend box office receipts like hawks. The bad news is I don’t think the usual online activist base will be enough — in order for this to work, we need to get real people to take real action by changing their offline behavior (i.e. it only works if people who normally go to theaters don’t go when we ask them).

So, here’s what I propose:

  1. We pick a weekend far enough from now that we have time to adequately mobilize mass support
  2. We educate our non-geek family and friends (aka muggles 😉 ) about how SOPA/PIPA will impact the Internet in ways they care about (e.g. censoring YouTube and Facebook)
  3. *Then* we start making noise online to get as many people as possible to join the boycott on the appointed weekend and to make clear to the studios that the dip in revenue they’re going to see that weekend is a direct result of their support of SOPA/PIPA

That’s my idea. I think it can work, but only if enough other people think it makes sense and want to help. I’m open to suggestions on how to move forward and happy to help however I can in making this a reality. You can reach me at jonathan [at] jonathanhstrauss.com and @jhstrauss on Twitter.

And in the meantime, I’ll be that guy annoying his girlfriend’s family about the evils of Internet censorship at Christmas dinner 😀 .

7 thoughts on “Vote against #SOPA with your pocketbooks: Boycott the Box Office”

  1. I love this idea. I think that Memorial Day weekend would make a lot of sense since it’s traditionally a big moviegoing weekend and the start of the summer movie season.

    1. Agreed Memorial Day could make a huge impact, but I’m betting by that time this issue will have been decided one way or another. *This* weekend would have been perfect, but it’s probably too late for that at this point ;-). President’s Day Weekend (Friday, February 17 – Monday, February 20) might be a good alternative. But I also think it could just be any weekend if enough people are involved.

      1. Great idea Jonathan! Tough call. Do we go with a big blockbuster weekend where people might ignore the boycott, or a typical weekend where we could convince the masses to stay away from the theatres for a week. Dampening a blockbusters launch weekend speaks loudly, but taking a medicre weekend to zero could be just as effective.

  2. Isn’t this the same flawed concept of boycotting gas stations for one day? Everyone will just go the next day, they don’t lose any revenue because the good doesn’t perish.

    I’m in full support of bitchslapping some sense into the entertainment industry, but I don’t see how this is going to do it. The next weekend they’ll make double the expected revenue.

    1. I’m not sure I quite agree with the analogy on a couple fronts. First of all unlike gasonline, theatrical movies are not a commodity that people actually *need* and there are a number of replacements even if you really want to see a given film (i.e. seeing it on DVD, on-demand, streaming, etc). So while there might be some replacement viewing the next weekend, I’d argue a lot of people would never make up for that skipped trip to the theaters and the total box office receipts wouldn’t end up the same. Secondly, a film’s opening weekend box office receipts have a huge impact on setting the long-term economic value of a film by dictating the marketing budget for the rest of the film’s time in theaters and playing a disproportionate role in determining licensing fees for other territories and release windows (e.g. pay TV, free TV, pay-per-view, etc).

      But most importantly, this is about alerting the folks who control the MPAA’s pursestrings (i.e. studio management) that these hostile activities aren’t going unnoticed by their customers. My belief is the studios don’t care enough about the incremental potential protections of SOPA/PIPA to actually risk any real revenue.

  3. Okay, but let’s think about this. All movies and films are are things that we enjoy : cheap pleasures (although, they are not always cheap). So why can’t we just write up a boycott about saving money, so as to appeal to those who are not into boycotting things, and spin this thing as an effort to save money. At the same time, we could tell those who care that they may also be helping to save the internet as we know it.

    It’s just a thought. I don’t watch much at the theatres anymore anyhow, and this just gives me a reason not to go anymore.

  4. We need to send a message to these elitist one percenters who are totally out of touch with reality. Lets boycott their over priced re-imagined or remade movies in 2012. Stop buying their way over priced DVD, Blu-Ray releases. If you like a musical artist instead of buying their newest album save up and go see them when they come to your area. I love the drawing above. When we the peoples money stops flowing into Motion Picture and Recording Industry their PAC money flowing into Washington will slow down as well at their ability to bribe the crooks , I mean the members of congress who are supposed to represent the people and uphold the Constitution.

Leave a Reply