The RIAA has just submitted its latest tax filing to the IRS, covering the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014. Time for us to see where the music industry’s anti-piracy arm stands.
In previous years the RIAA reported a massive decline in revenue after the record labels cut back on their membership dues, but this trend now appears to have stopped.
Total revenue according to the latest filing is $24.2 million, a slight increase from $24.1 million the year before. Despite the stabilizing income, which mostly comes from the record label’s membership dues, the RIAA continues to trim employees.
Over the past five years the number of employees at the RIAA has been slashed in half, dropping from 117 to just 55.
In its most recent filing the RIAA lists 55 people on the payroll compared to 58 the year before. In total these employees earned $11.7 million of which more than 25% went into the pockets of three top executives.
Interestingly, while more than half of the organization’s workers have been let go, the RIAA’s top employees have enjoyed salary increases year after year, including some healthy bonuses.
To most consumers it’s common sense that they can make a backup copy of media they own, but in the UK this was illegal until late last year.
After consulting various stakeholders the Government decided that it would be in the best interests of consumers to legalize copying for personal use.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all copyright holders were in favor of the legal changes. In fact, emails published from the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack reveal that Hollywood wanted to stop the plans by urging UK Prime Minister David Cameron to keep Hollywood’s interests in mind.
The first email mentioning the issue was sent January last year. Here, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton was informed that MPAA boss Chris Dodd wanted him to give Cameron a call.
“Essentially, Dodd thinks (and we agree) it would be helpful for you to call Prime Minister Cameron if you are willing in order to ensure our position is fully considered,” the email from Sony’s Keith Weaver reads.
According to Weaver it was still uncertain whether Hollywood’s concerns would be properly heard in Parliament.
“This is because prior interactions with the U.K. government over the last few months have left us with no certainty that our concerns will be addressed in the proposal that will be presented to Parliament for an up or down vote in February,” he explained.
Last year the MPAA started a new grants program inviting academics to pitch their research proposals.
Researchers are being offered a $20,000 grant for projects that address various piracy related topics, including the impact of copyright law and the effectiveness of notice and takedown regimes.
Last month marked the silent start of a new round of grant applications for the fall of 2015.
There’s no public announcement but MPAA boss Chris Dodd previously said there’s a need for better and unbiased copyright related research to find out how recent developments are affecting the film industry.
“We need more and better research regarding the evolving role of copyright in society. The academic community can provide unbiased observations, data analysis, historical context and important revelations about how these changes are impacting the film industry…,” Dodd noted.
While Dodd’s comments about unbiased research are admirable, there also appears to be a hidden agenda which until now hasn’t seen the light of day.
In an email leaked in the Sony hack MPAA General Counsel Steven Fabrizio explains to the member studios that they’re soliciting pro-copyright papers. The April 2014 email further reveals that the MPAA hopes to identify pro-copyright scholars who can be used to influence future copyright policies.
“As you know, as one component of our Academic Outreach program, the MPAA is launching a global research grant program both to solicit pro-copyright academic research papers and to identify pro-copyright scholars who we can cultivate for further public advocacy,” Fabrizio writes.
Needless to say, soliciting pro-copyright papers and spotting pro-copyright scholars for public advocacy doesn’t sound very unbiased.
In an effort to get foreign policy makers onside, the movie group asked its member studios to help fund an upgrade of the screening rooms in various U.S. embassies around the world.
In an email from Sony Pictures Entertainment Head of Worldwide Government Affairs Keith Weaver to CEO Michael Lynton last March, Weaver explains that the studio had been asked for rather a sizable contribution.
“I wanted to make you aware of a recent MPAA request, as Senator Dodd may contact you directly,” Weaver’s email begins.
“Essentially, the request is for the member companies to consider upgrading screening rooms at U.S. Embassies in various countries (Germany, Spain, Italy, UK, and Japan)…”
These rooms could then be used by the ambassadors to show off Hollywood content to invited high-level officials.
“…the idea being that these upgraded screening rooms would allow American ambassadors to screen our movies to high level officials (and, thus, inculcate a stronger will to protect our interests through this quality exposure to our content),” Weaver adds.
In other words, the MPAA wants to pay for an upgrade of the embassies’ private theaters, to indirectly protect the interests of U.S. movie studios abroad.
It’s a rather interesting lobbying effort and one that doesn’t come cheap. The estimated cost for the project is $165,000 per studio, which means the total budget for the project is close to a million dollars.
Unfortunately for the MPAA, Weaver suggested giving the project a miss and in a reply Lynton agreed.
“While studios have supported efforts like this in the past, my inclination is that we pass on this financial commitment at this time (of course, applauding the idea/effort),” Weaver noted.
In an email a few months later the issue was addressed again with additional details.
In this conversation Weaver notes that the request is “not unusual” and that the studio supported a similar request years ago. “Apparently, donations of this kind are permissible,” Weaver writes.
Again, Lynton replied that he was not inclined to support the project. It’s unclear whether any of the other members chipped in, or if the plan has been canceled due to a lack of financial support.