This week we’d like to introduce you to the Co-President of Millennium Media, Jonathan Yunger.
1. Please share some information about Millennium Media and your role as Co-President at the company.
We are an independent production company that handles every aspect of the filmmaking process from start to finish, including development, financing, casting, and physical production. We have been in business for nearly 30 years and during that time we have a built a library of more than 325 movies, including The Expendables franchise, the Has Fallen series, and The Outpost.
I wear many different hats in my role as Co-President. When one of our films is in production, I will typically be on a set doing the day to day work of shooting a movie. Otherwise, my days are packed with high-level meetings about upcoming or potential projects, budgeting, financing, and all of the other business-related matters that go on behind the scenes of a bustling film company. I’m as likely to meet with the development department as I am with the accounting department. Even though we make big movies we are a small company, and we all do a little bit of everything to keep the lights on.
2. What is your (and your company’s) interest in copyright law? How does your company and team rely on copyright law to support their livelihoods?
Our employees’ livelihoods don’t just benefit from copyright law – they depend on it.
As an independent studio, we finance our movies based on presales of our films to distributors around the world. Once the movie is released, we make money from ancillary revenues from iTunes, Amazon Prime, and many other outlets. Copyright law makes this business model possible – we can sell and rent our films on different platforms because we own the copyrights.
When people break the law and pirate our films – violating our copyrights – it cuts into the ancillary revenues we depend on. This makes it very difficult to finance a sequel to the pirated movie or even make a new movie with the same or higher budget. It might mean that our crews get smaller on the next project or that we have to shoot outside the U.S. to save money.
It’s unfortunate when this happens because our bigger-budget movies might provide jobs for up to 1,000 people during production – and we would obviously much prefer to keep these jobs in America.
3. When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
Well, I always knew what copyright was. But I became aware of its importance about a month before the release of our movie, The Expendables 3, when a high-definition copy of the film was leaked and put on a pirate site.
That’s when I learned what a huge problem copyright infringement was. By opening day, the movie had been illegally downloaded around 60 million times. We realized that nobody was enforcing our copyright on this film and that there was nothing we could do about the piracy.
4. Sixty million is a crazy number of downloads! What effect did piracy at that scale have on your company?
We had to give back money to distributors who couldn’t release the movie properly because it had been leaked. We ended up losing over $250 million on The Expendables 3 across all of our distribution channels. We had distributors that went out of business because of this piracy. It was crazy.
5. What is one thing that you wish the public understood about copyright?
Really, I wish people had a better understanding of what goes into the industries supported by copyright. I wish the public knew that what you see on television – with the red carpets and the nice dresses and the tuxedos – is just a tiny sliver of the film and television ecosystem. Ninety-eight percent of the entertainment business is made up of regular working people whose livelihoods are made possible by copyright. They are not making millions of dollars a movie. They are boom mic operators, gaffers, electricians, accountants, assistants, salespeople, marketers, and many more. They are people working in normal jobs – and these jobs are at risk when the creative industries are being hammered by piracy.
6. What is your organization’s biggest copyright-related challenge?
Enforcement of our copyrights. It takes a lot of manpower to find our infringing videos online and get them taken down. You have to really stay on top of it and it takes a lot of hours and many people working on it.
7. If there was one aspect of copyright law that you could change, what would that be and how would you change it?
As a company, we are on the frontlines of the fight for better copyright law. Working with our friends at CreativeFuture, we go frequently to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress and Senators. We helped a lot with the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act that was passed at the end of 2020 and I testified last year at one of the Senate DMCA hearings.
Now, I am hoping to see a push for no-fault injunctive relief aimed at blocking access to the market by known, adjudicated pirate sites. This is referred to by some as “site blocking.” The idea was first raised in Washington a decade ago during the debate over SOPA/PIPA, so unfortunately raising it sends some people on the Hill running from the room. But we’ve now had ten years of global experience with site blocking, and there are currently dozens of countries with working judicial site-blocking laws, including our Western allies Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The effect of site blocking has been studied extensively in these countries. It’s clear that it is a highly successful tool to fight piracy. I have seen firsthand how it can also help make legitimate marketplaces healthier. My distribution partners in many of these countries are more willing to pay us better license fees because they know that the risk of digital piracy has been reduced thanks to site-blocking. In the United Kingdom, for instance, our revenues have definitively increased since site-blocking went into effect.
I would like to see America adopt a similar policy to create a healthier legitimate film and television marketplace.
8. What is the best piece of advice that you would give to artists/creators about copyright and how to protect themselves and their work?
If you’re going to go into a creative industry now, you must educate yourself on copyright and how to protect it as best you can. Sometimes the government will help you and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes it will take too long to get the help you need. Ultimately, you must really rely on yourself.
For a creator in the digital age, copyright education and enforcement is just part of the job.
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