EDITORIAL: Breaking from bad laws

Network feud shows less government makes better TV

The latest brawl in the entertainment industry came to a head last weekend. Screens went dark for many of the 14 million subscribers to the Dish Network who attempted to tune in to watch Sunday’s season premiere of AMC’s hit show, “Breaking Bad.”

The satellite-television provider couldn’t agree to contract terms with the upstart channel. Just a few years ago, AMC was a forgotten graveyard for black-and-white films. Carrying this old material was cheap, but things began to change in 2007 when the station became home to the original series “Mad Men,” which has won the best drama Emmy four times in a row. Now that it’s a hot commodity, AMC wants more money to cover rising production costs. Dish thinks the price being asked is too high.

Both companies made the decision they believe serves their long-term interests. Such disputes are common, but this time customers aren’t entirely left in the cold by the impasse. AMC will allow anyone to watch the show “for a limited time” on its website for free. Amazon and iTunes also offer episodes for $2, and the latest television sets can stream these videos without need of a computer. Those without an Internet connection can wait for the DVD.

That’s how the free market resolves a problem affecting millions when government doesn’t get in the way. Unfortunately, Congress appears to want more federal intervention with the Intellectual Property Attache Act, which began circulating last week. Sponsored by House Judiciary Committee heavyweights from both parties, the bill would dispatch bureaucrats to every corner of the globe “to advance the intellectual property rights of United States persons.” By persons, the bill means Hollywood executives.

The premise is that Uncle Sam isn’t doing enough to combat piracy and counterfeiting, so Washington needs to step up its game. Never mind that we already have an undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and an Intellectual Property Enforcement coordinator. The Patent and Trademark Office, Border Patrol, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Department of Justice are all actively engaged in enforcing existing laws. That’s apparent to anyone who watches a DVD and is forced to sit through the FBI anti-piracy warning threatening five years in jail and a $250,000 fine for any violation.

That’s one example of the heavy hammer of government that Hollywood swings without mercy. Most often, its goal is to crush potential competitors — including emerging technologies. In 1984, for example, the big movie studios went to the Supreme Court in a failed attempt to outlaw the VCR.

Today, the videotape and its successor, the DVD, have become one of the most lucrative sources of studio revenue. Likewise, the industry that once sued to eliminate various music and movie downloading services now sees the iTunes store generating $8 billion in annual sales. It’s also solving thorny carriage disputes.

This is all why, instead of more laws, we need appreciation for the technologies that give consumers what they want, when they want it.

The Washington Times

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