How did Hollywood become Hollywood? If you ask the operators of The Pirate Bay and their apologists, they’ll say Hollywood was built by a band of pirates, fleeing stringent East Coast patent protections to a free and open land to create at will. This theory conveniently parallels their own existence, as they seek to justify profiting from digital theft. Spoiler alert: their story is fiction. Copyhype’s Terry Hart chronicles the origins of the heart of showbiz in a recent piece, debunking the theory that filmmakers’ migration west was to flee enforcement of intellectual property laws.
As Hart points out, the patents at issue were held by the Motion Picture Patents Company, which, through restrictive tie-in agreements and licensing practices, severely impeded independent filmmakers from entering the market. But the status quo was challenged, and shortly afterwards, the Supreme Court determined that MPPC’s licensing practices give it “a potential power for evil over” movie producers which “would be gravely injurious to th[e] public interest.” This 1917 ruling severely undermined MPPC’s unfair business practices.
So why did so many filmmaker make the trek cross-country to the Golden State? Geography is one good reason, says Hart.
The landscape of Southern California provides a multitude of options for filmmakers when choosing their films’ setting. Weather is another good reason, he adds. The transition from harsh East Coast winters to 70 degrees and sunny was certainly a welcome one for the film community. Not to mention land was cheaper and labor more available. It seems landscape, climate, and business were all an improvement for creators looking to relocate.
Thus, while the “Hollywood was created by pirates” schtick may be cute, it is a false narrative pressed primarily by copyright opponents as a way to validate online content theft.