Keynote Address at Motion Picture Association Reception

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Beijing, China
September 5, 2014

Remarks as prepared

Thank you. I am so delighted to have the opportunity to attend this movie reception. It doesn’t matter where we go in the world, movies are magical.

From Santa Monica, where I spent almost 20 years working in the entertainment sector, to Paris, France, where I most recently served four years as U.S. Ambassador, I have witnessed firsthand people’s excitement and reverence for films.

I think it’s because movies – on screens large and small – reach so deeply into the things that matter to us: personal aspirations, our desire to pursue happiness and be free. They connect people across borders, across cultures, and they transcend languages.

I am very excited to be in China today to discuss the burgeoning U.S.-China film relationship. Back when I started in the entertainment industry, I would not have imagined that China would be on pace to become the largest film market in the world. The news that Transformers: Age of Extinction broke $300 million in the China market alone is truly remarkable.

However, I would like to take a step back from the numbers and remember why I got into this business so many years ago.

At the Jim Henson Company, I had the privilege to work with the creators of the Muppets and Sesame Street. Jim Henson once told me that media can be an enormous source of good in the world. He lived that philosophy through the programs that he made, such as Sesame Street.

I also attribute a great deal of the American success to telling great stories, even the dark ones.

Last year, I was equally parts horrified and captivated when I watched 12 years a Slave, a movie that tells a true story of a free black man who is kidnapped in Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery. This film, which won the Oscar for best picture, immerses the audience in the pure brutality of being a slave in the United States.

This is a terrible chapter in our history and is difficult to watch. But the freedom, and I would say the bravery, of directors, writers, and producers to point this critical lens at our past, resulted in an authentic movie that touched people and made an important artistic and historical contribution to society.

A great story must be told in a captivating way. We often use technology as a vehicle to believably deliver our story. Tonight in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we will see technology that truly dazzles. This great new example of science fiction draws on breakthroughs in movie technology.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ visuals prove that there are no longer any boundaries between computer-generated characters, as the apes feel just as real as the actors playing human roles.

The technological advances that shape the movie experience and allow the audience to get lost in the story are one part of the complex production process and viewing experience. Advanced technologies in the movie theaters, such as IMAX, 3D, and thunderous surround-sound make powerful contributions to the audience experience in the theater.

Of course these technologies were developed through painstaking research and trial and error, and funded by millions of dollars of investment.

From my former vantage as a CEO, it is clear to me that strong intellectual property rights and open markets are also critical components to developing a thriving film industry.

Making a $200 million bet on a new movie or film technology is difficult if a company cannot adequately protect its intellectual property.

The patents and licenses for these break-through technologies, and the trademarks and copyrights vital to creating thrilling and enduring movies, allow rights holders to earn profits and recoup the cost to develop and commercialize their creative ideas.

And as Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. State Department’s Economic and Business Bureau, safeguarding intellectual property rights is one of my key priorities.

When we talk about intellectual property rights, we’re not talking about abstractions. We’re really talking about people.

Yes, movies matter to us as consumers. But they also matter to the people who create the ideas, the products and the technology that make them possible. And not just the ones who invented it, but the ones who work on it.

There’s a whole industry of men and women – all over the world, not just in the United States – who develop, produce, create, distribute or promote motion pictures and television programs. And whether they are artists or technicians, their livelihoods depend on the creation of these films that enrich our lives.

This IPR problem is not limited to the entertainment industry, but impacts businesses – small and large – across all sectors. Prior to coming to Beijing, I met with entrepreneurs and small businesses in Myanmar, Singapore, and Hong Kong, all of whom voiced their concern about losing their ideas to intellectual property theft.

Returning to the film industry, I am also deeply concerned about digital piracy, which is a real threat to U.S. and Chinese content creators alike. Some films are adversely impacted because pirated versions are available prior to the films’ official opening, decreasing the number of potential moviegoers, as we have seen in the very recent case of The Expendables 3.

Increased movie revenues have the potential to benefit both foreign and domestic stakeholders, both of whom should care deeply about intellectual property protection.

In fact, I just had a wonderful discussion this morning with Mr. Wang, Chairman of Wanda, one of China’s largest entertainment companies. Many of you are probably familiar with Chairman Wang and Wanda’s 2012 acquisition of the U.S.-based movie theater operator, AMC. In our conversation, he agreed with me that intellectual property rights are critical for the future growth of China.

The boom in the Chinese box office, which reached sales of $3.6 billion in 2013 has been wonderful for Chinese filmmakers and the industry as a whole, but the Chinese film and television industry has more to offer than simply a large audience: it has the possibility to develop further as a mature, self-sustaining, economically and creatively successful industry.

There truly is so much potential for our industries to flourish and further excite audiences around the world. I look forward to continued cooperation among our governments, industries, and creative sectors to develop our film industries and protect intellectual property. After all, if we want to continue to see the movies we love, we need to reward those who create them.