As the creator of Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter has made a name for himself as a master of bringing to light the gritty, dangerous and fascinating underbelly of society. That, and he’s known as one of the most outspoken men in Hollywood. So it’s no surprise to see that he has taken a strong stance against Google’s position on copyright issues in a passionate essay published Friday on Slate.
Sutter’s article is a response to the March 10 story, “Hollywood’s Copyright Lobbyists Are Like Exes Who Won’t Give Up.” That post — written by Marvin Ammori, a lawyer working for Google — argued against the “voluntary agreements” copyright lobbyists in Hollywood and other creative industries are seeking with tech companies to find ways to curb online piracy of movies, TV shows and music. He claims some of the larger content creators are throwing around their weight when copyright infringement is suspected, resulting in “payment processors or advertisers [cutting] off a tech company…without a single legal order.” Ammori likened these new initiatives to the proposed Stop Online Privacy Act, which would have expanded the ability of law enforcement to fight online piracy — including blocking websites hosting infringing content. After unprecedented outcry against the bill, Congress postponed SOPA indefinitely.
Sutter starts his argument by saying he understands the public perception of his job and that of his colleagues as one of ostentation and privilege. He tries to correct the idea that everyone in Hollywood drives $500,000 cars (Diddy is a different case, he says). More importantly, he offers reasons why creating a television show is not an easy task, nor one that he takes for granted.
“I’m blessed,” he writes. “I get paid a lot of money to do something I love. I wouldn’t trade the 80-hour weeks, the psychiatrist bills, the death threats, the hostile-work-environment claims, or the fact that I have to reintroduce myself to my children every hiatus for anything. But make no mistake: I work hard to create my content. So do the hundreds of people I employ who work with me every day.”
Sutter insists that all of that sacrifice needs to be worth something — and if someone illegally downloads every season of SOA for some spring break binge-watching, his efforts go to waste. It’s a fair argument. Here’s an example on a far smaller scale: What if you take a really great photo and post it to Tumblr. Suddenly, it gets a ton of likes and reblogs, and you’re feeling pretty excited about that recognition. But then a week later, you notice your favorite blogger has posted your picture to his gazillion Tumblr followers — with no credit given to you. You’d be pretty pissed, right?
Furthermore, Sutter argues, if high-end content is shared online for free, it becomes devalued. “Content excellence cannot sustain itself if it loses its capacity to reward the talent that creates it,” he writes. “Consider this clunky analogy: If your local car dealership started selling your favorite luxury car for $1,000, then $100, then started giving it away, what do you think would happen to the quality of that vehicle? Before long, the manufacturer would be forced to let go of the skilled laborer, the artisan, and the craftsman, and eventually cut back on everything in the production process. And before long, that fabulous, high-end car you so enjoyed will be a sheet of warped plywood on top of two rusty cans. Yep, it’s cheap, and it’s s–t.”
As a solution, Sutter champions voluntary agreements — as a start. Those initiatives, he writes, mean “sitting down to begin a fair, open dialogue to find a solution that gives consumers the access and tools they need, while still protecting the livelihood and rights of content creators. This means that everyone is welcome to the table — artists, corporations, consumers, Google…hell, bring along Marvin and all his exes!”
Sutter concludes with the plea that “no one benefits from piracy except the criminals and the portal that opens its doors to them. Stealing content may feel like a win, but supporting piracy will ultimately diminish the quality of the content you’ve come to love and depend on,” he writes. “Google and the other copyright killers will tell you the opposite to assuage your burden of guilt and theirs, but again, it’s in their best interests to do everything and anything that serves their current bottom line.”
That’s right, online pirates — Kurt Sutter has found his next counterculture to tackle, and you’re squarely in his sights.