Even the Film Industry Needs Encryption.

Francis Ford Coppola, the acclaimed director of numerous movies, but most well-known for The Godfather trilogy, has issued over the weekend a press release asking for the return of a backup device to his computer files.  Burglars entered his production office and home in Argentina (Coppola was slated to begin shooting a new movie in Buenos Aires), and stole numerous articles, including laptops, cameras, and the previously-mentioned backup device.  There were people in the office at the time, but they weren’t able to prevent the robbery—in fact, they were tied up by the armed thieves.


According to the articles that I’ve read so far, the backup had 15 years worth of data, including past works and family pictures.  Actually, some of the articles quoted Coppola saying it was “all my writing.”  Based on other details, it looks like Coppola had contingency plans in place.  For example, the latest script that he was working on was saved not only on the laptop that was stolen, but also in other off-site locations.


My guess is, however, that the contingency plans were set in place for active projects, and probably did not extend to personal or private (for the lack of a better word) data.  I’m not talking of Social Security numbers and credit card numbers here, but the personal notes that a creative person might record in his notebook.  Most people have a way to record flashes of brilliance or insight or inspiration whenever and wherever they occur, be it a Moleskin notebook (supposedly favored by the likes of Picasso) or a cheap voice recording device.  Of course, in this day and age most people will probably transfer any such ideas into some kind of digital device, if they haven’t already recorded it in one to begin with.  And it only makes sense to do so.


When you consider how complex it is to get a project started and finished, anything to streamline the workflow and exchange of ideas will be accepted and implemented as quickly as possible once the reliability has been proven: mobile phones, e-mail, digital photography, etc.  The ability to remain connected at all times allow the creative juices not only to flow but to continue flowing, since inspiration tends to be ephemeral.  Plus, it makes it easy to share ideas.  In Hollywood, for example, the joke is that everybody has a script to show you.  (That includes the wino that hit you for some spare change.)  And they want to send that script to anyone who is someone so it can be picked up.  I can’t testify as to how they do it, but I’m guessing USB flash drives change hands as much as paper scripts.  But there are problems to this rapid-information culture.  A single “mistake” is enough to derail everything.


The mistake could be physical theft.  Or sending it to an unintended recipient.  Or losing your work.  For every story of someone wanting to show you a script, there’s a story of somebody cursing the theft of their script and ideas by a rival writer, or a producer, or a studio.  Stolen ideas.  Stolen concepts.  Stolen stories.  Heck, there are enough court records you can peruse where scenes and stories are stolen straight out from a struggling writer’s works which are registered and under copyright.


I would imagine that for the creative types, assuming that they are exercising precautions to backup their data, the bigger danger is losing their data—their art.    Unlike the theft of credit card numbers (which incurs limited liabilities) or Social Security numbers (new ones can be issued, although it’s not easy nor does it guarantee that all problems will be resolved), the theft of ideas cannot be rectified at all.  And if one follows the lawsuits relating to such misappropriations, he or she also knows it’s almost impossible to get remuneration.  (Although the “Rounders” lawsuit from last year was a turning point for writers in Hollywood.  I’m guessing entertainment lawyers must have been working—and billing—overtime.)


In light of all this, would this particular industry require encryption of content and devices?  After all, information doesn’t leak out in this particular industry—it gushes.  There’s no way to stop it, either.  Someone has to read the script in order to assess its quality and artistic, if not box-office, merit.  I would imagine, though, that many would see the benefit of keeping their innermost thoughts private, until these are ready to see daylight. (Word is that Stanley Kubrik kept all of his works under wraps until they were released.)  And the last thing that people would want is for their end-product to be released to the world due to a “mistake” such as going for that extra latte and finding their laptop has been lifted from the café table.  Or typing the wrong e-mail address to a message with an attachment.


And the studios?  The studios would probably want protection in the way any significant industrial player would want it when it comes to protecting their office equipment and data.  Laptop encryption as well as encryption for any digital devices.  Port control on devices to ensure that the material being developed does not get copied (and stolen) and distributed to other studios: the easiest thing in the world to do is to hook up a USB flash drive to a computer and copy files.  Content encryption would probably be handy as well, in order to encrypt individual files, and prevent someone from reading them if anything leaks out by mistake—be it the script to the next blockbuster or a for-your-eyes only company memo.

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