Things got heated at last night's AllThingsD conference session with Hollywood super agent Ari Emanuel, who in less than one hour embodied the entire beef between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. As Emanuel discussed the future of the entertainment industry online he went from stern to angry, raising his voice from a steady confident level, to full on yelling by the question and answer session. At one point he called one of his questioners a "fucking idiot" under his breath. (AllThingsD has the clip over here.) Though SOPA feels like eons ago in Internet time, Emanuel's performance last night reminded us that in this digital media world, Hollywood is still at war with the Internet powers that be.
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If you remember from SOPA days, the basic rift goes like this. Hollywood wants people to stop stealing their product on the Internet. As Emanuel puts it, those running the Internet, like Google, aren't doing a good enough job at policing the net. "We need Northern California to figure out how to keep our intellectual property from being stolen. If Google was in China, and their stuff was being stolen, they would leave China, right?" Emanuel asked. And he has a solution. "I’d like them to start filtering when people are stealing our product internationally, that’s their responsibility," he yelled over one question asker, the one he called a swear who happened to be Josh Topolsky, editor in chief of The Verge. "Stealing is a bad thing," he added.
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With Google et al. not doing enough policing for Hollywood studio's tastes, SOPA and PIPA were supposed to give that power to the government. That, as we know, did not work out because the Internet fought back with blackouts and blog posts and other digital forms of protest, believing the laws facilitated government censorship. Hollywood still has a problem, the Internet has not done anything to fix it, explains Emanuel. "Where Google decides to play in this piracy issue, plus Verizon, AT&T, is very crucial for our industry and I’m concerned they’re going to wait it out," he added. Hence the anger.
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But the hatred goes both ways, as we saw from that question and answer session. Topolsky opened up with an analogy comparing Internet pirates to thieves stealing things from Hollywood's house. In this scenario, argues Topolsky, Google and other Internet players are just the road to the house. Would we expect this road to be able to stop these thieves? It is just a road, after-all. Not a gun-wielding police officer. (Emanuel didn't like that analogy, by the way, which drew out the expletive.) This is a ridiculous request, says the Silicon Valley crowd. One tweeter, tech journalist Rob Pegoraro, compared it to "magic stop-piracy button." Everyone knows magic isn't real.
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The tech world has its own ideas for how to fix piracy that don't involve censorship, as we learn from the other question asker at the session. He brings up Apple as a paradigm for Hollywood. The entertainment industry just needs to accept digital distribution platforms. Of course, that gets complicated. Steve Jobs sold a bunch of iPods in return for the deals he made with record labels. And even at 99 cents a song, the music industry isn't doing so well, argues Emanuel. Plus, Hollywood has the cable companies to contend with. They don't want to lose their precious, bundled subscribers. In short, Hollywood doesn't want to.
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In all of this, it is worth noting, however, that Emanuel isn't the most diplomatic representative Hollywood could have picked. You can read all about his real personality in this entertaining 1997 Times Magazine article about the Emanuel brothers, who include beloved Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. Or you can check out the fictional portrayal of him as Ari Gold on Entourage. Either way, he's a known dick. When he began one of his responses with, "I’m going to piss a lot of people off," what followed should not have surprised. Though, just because he happens to bite, doesn't mean he doesn't speak on behalf of the rest of Hollywood. They might just do their bidding with fewer f-words.