"Most of the problems I have are with copyright law and the politicians who get paid to pimp for the studios and labels," Mark Cuban tells Gelf Magazine, in explaining why he's waded into the legal battle over online file sharing.
Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, co-founder of the high-definition television network HDNet, Internet billionaire, and no stranger to controversy. On his blog, blogmaverick.comwhere he's previously written critically about the media, NBA refereeing, and the stigma surrounding the shorting of stocksCuban revealed Saturday that he's supporting the legal effort on behalf of Grokster, the online file-sharing network being sued by MGM Studios for allegedly infringing copyrights. "If Grokster loses, technological innovation might not die, but it will have such a significant price tag associated with it, it will be the domain of the big corporations only," Cuban wrote. (Supreme Court arguments in MGM vs. Grokster began Tuesday; see related Gelf commentary.)
A spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the online civil-liberties group that is aiding Grokster in its legal defense, wouldn't tell Gelf how much Cuban is paying, but she did say his funds covered the hiring of D.C. lawyer Richard Taranto, a former clerk for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
In a series of emails Monday and Tuesday, Cuban spoke to Gelf about the case, movie studios' reaction to his public opposition to them, and the future of digital content. Here's the exchange, edited for readability:
Gelf Magazine: Interesting that you've taken an active role in the case. Are there other controversies in technology or otherwise that you want to get involved with, or have gotten involved with, in terms of funding the side you believe is right?
Mark Cuban: I just try to pay attention. I don't have a to-do list. Most of the problems I have are with copyright law and the politicians who get paid to pimp for the studios and labels.
GM: You refer in several places in your blog post to big companies, seemingly pejoratively. Is there something inherent about big companies in the content space that is bad, or is the issue more the strategy of the specific companies involved, individually and through trade groups like the RIAA?
MC: The people who are making the decisions regarding how they will pursue these issues don't own copyrights themselves. They are CEOs who get paid a boatload of money to be the CEO. Its their job to protect their jobs, not to do what might make their companies the most amount of money.
I have a huge problem with the fact that they are paying for our politicians to make decisions on copyright issues based on self-interest.
GM: You mentioned "the politicians who get paid to pimp for the studios and labels." Any specific politicians you're referring to?
MC: Orrin Hatch comes to mind. [Gelf didn't hear back from the office of Hatch, a Republican Senator from Utah, by press time. Many techies oppose the Induce Act, a bill co-sponsored by Hatch that would "hold tech companies responsible for creating devices that could be used to pirate digital content," as Wired News put it last year. Hatch received $179,928 in donations from the TV/movies/music sector in the last election cycle, according to opensecrets.org.]
GM: You say that software doesn't steal content, people steal content. So what do you think of the RIAA's strategy of suing individual file-sharers?
MC: I have no problem with it at all. If you steal, you are wrong. You should have to deal with the consequences. We have plenty of laws on the book to make sure that happens.
GM: At the intersection of your thoughts on content, and your ownership of the Mavs: Should the NBA be streaming video of more games online, like the NCAA has been doing during the tournament? Is this a major missed opportunity?
MC: Streaming video isn't really a big deal for the NBA because we never have weekday games during the day. For the NCAA it was important because the only way people in an office can watch a game starting at 2 p.m. during the week without playing hooky from work is to watch a stream at their desk.
At Broadcast.com we did research that showed that only 7% of office workers have TVs on their desk. The PC is the primary in-office media device, so streaming for the NCAA makes perfect sense. It doesn't really make a difference for the NBA.
GM: I saw the Dallas Morning News article on your lack of worry about movie studios' reaction. Have any representatives of the MPAA or studios contacted you to complain about your public position against MGM? Do Landmark, Magnolia or HDNet have a direct business relationship with MGM?
MC: No. I have heard from employees of studios who are supportive. And yes. We will spend tens of millions of dollars with Sony over the coming years.
GM: Does the Betamax precedent apply to the Grokster case, even though people are using digital technology like Grokster to amass libraries, not just to tape shows and enhance viewing convenience?
MC: Yes. People amassed libraries on tape as well. You can pick up any movie-collector mag and see the ads to buy a VHS or DVD of any TV show ever made. That's a big library, and those ads have been there for at least 10 years. The industry doesn't care.
GM: Have you used Grokster? What do you think of the technology?
MC: Have not used Grokster. Have no plans to.
GM: How should innovators monetize this sort of technology? Need they rely on donations?
MC: That's up to them. Peer-to-peer has been around for about 20 years. I remember selling Artisoft software on LANs way back when and offering various applications that allowed for sharing of files and content of all types across those networks. Peer-to-peer isn't new. It's just that the music industry recently decided to be litigious about it. Just because the RIAA doesn't like an application and its uses 20 years later doesn't mean they should be able to stop any and all implementations of it.
GM: How much funding are you supplying to the EFF?
MC: Not for publication.
GM: Lastly and unrelatedly, does IU make the tournament next year?
MC: I hope so.
-- David Goldenberg contributed to this article./