Motion Picture Association of America

The Motion Picture Association (MPA)[1][2] is an American trade association representing the five major film studios of the United States, as well as the video streaming service Netflix. Founded in 1922 as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) and known as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) from 1945 until September 2019,[3] its original goal was to ensure the viability of the American film industry. In addition, the MPAA established guidelines for film content which resulted in the creation of the Production Code in 1930. This code, also known as the Hays Code, was replaced by a voluntary film rating system in 1968, which is managed by the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA).

Motion Picture Association
Formation1922 (1922) (as Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America)
TypeFilm ratings, lobbying, anti-piracy, Non-profit, self-regulatory
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
Chairman and CEO
Charles Rivkin

More recently, the MPA has advocated for the motion picture and television industry, with the goals of promoting effective copyright protection, reducing piracy, and expanding market access. It has long worked to curb copyright infringement, including recent attempts to limit the sharing of copyrighted works via peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and by streaming from pirate sites. Former United States Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin is the chairman and CEO.


Foundation and early history: 1922–29

The MPA was founded as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) in 1922 as a trade association of member motion picture companies. At its founding, MPPDA member companies produced approximately 70 to 80 percent of the films made in the United States.[4] Former Postmaster General Will H. Hays was named the association's first president.[5]

The main focus of the MPPDA in its early years was on producing a strong public relations campaign to ensure that Hollywood remained financially stable and able to attract investment from Wall Street, while simultaneously ensuring that American films had a "clean moral tone".[4][6] The MPPDA also instituted a code of conduct for Hollywood's actors in an attempt to govern their behavior offscreen. Finally, the code sought to protect American film interests abroad by encouraging film studios to avoid racist portrayals of foreigners.[5][7]

From the early days of the association, Hays spoke out against public censorship,[7][8] and the MPPDA worked to raise support from the general public for the film industry's efforts against such censorship.[9] Large portions of the public opposed censorship, but also decried the lack of morals in movies.[10]

At the time of the MPPDA's founding, there was no national censorship, but some state and municipal laws required movies to be censored, a process usually overseen by a local censorship board.[10] Thus, in certain locations in the U.S., films were often edited to comply with local laws regarding the onscreen portrayal of violence and sexuality, among other topics. This resulted in negative publicity for the studios and decreasing numbers of theater goers, who were uninterested in films that were sometimes so severely edited that they were incoherent.[5] In 1929, more than 50 percent of American moviegoers lived in a location overseen by such a board.[10]

In 1924, Hays instituted "The Formula", a loose set of guidelines for filmmakers, in an effort to get the movie industry to self-regulate the issues that the censorship boards had been created to address. "The Formula" requested that studios send synopses of films being considered to the MPPDA for review. This effort largely failed, however, as studios were under no obligation to send their scripts to Hays's office, nor to follow his recommendations.[10]

In 1927, Hays oversaw the creation of a code of "Don'ts and Be Carefuls" for the industry.[10] This list outlined the issues that movies could encounter in different localities. Hays also created a Studio Relations Department (SRD) with staff available to the studios for script reviews and advice regarding potential problems. Again, despite Hays' efforts, studios largely ignored the "Don'ts and Be Carefuls," and by the end of 1929, the MPPDA received only about 20 percent of Hollywood scripts prior to production,[5] and the number of regional and local censorship boards continued to increase.[10]

Production Code: 1930–34

In 1930, the MPPDA introduced the Production Code, sometimes called the "Hays Code". The Code consisted of moral guidelines regarding what was acceptable to include in films.[11] Unlike the "Dont's and Be Carefuls", which the studios had ignored, the Production Code was endorsed by studio executives.[5] The Code incorporated many of the "Don'ts and Be Carefuls" as specific examples of what could not be portrayed. Among other rules, the code prohibited inclusion of "scenes of passion" unless they were essential to a film's plot; "pointed profanity" in either word or action; "sex perversion"; justification or explicit coverage of adultery; sympathetic treatment of crime or criminals; dancing with "indecent" moves; and white slavery.[12] Because studio executives had been involved in the decision to adopt the code, MPPDA-member studios were more willing to submit scripts for consideration. However, the growing economic impacts of the Great Depression of the early 1930s increased pressure on studios to make films that would draw the largest possible audiences, even if it meant taking their chances with local censorship boards by disobeying the Code.[5]

In 1933 and 1934 the Catholic Legion of Decency, along with a number of Protestant and women's groups, launched plans to boycott films that they deemed immoral.[13] In order to avert boycotts which might further harm the profitability of the film industry, the MPPDA created a new department, the Production Code Administration (PCA), with Joseph Breen as its head. Unlike previous attempts at self-censorship, PCA decisions were binding—no film could be exhibited in an American theater without a stamp of approval from the PCA,[10] and any producer attempting to do so faced a fine of $25,000.[5] After ten years of unsuccessful voluntary codes and expanding local censorship boards, the studio approved and agreed to enforce the codes, and the nationwide "Production Code" was enforced starting on July 1, 1934.[10]

War years: 1934–45

In the years that immediately followed the adoption of the Code, Breen often sent films back to Hollywood for additional edits, and in some cases, simply refused to issue PCA approval for a film to be shown.[5][14] At the same time, Hays promoted the industry's new focus on wholesome films[15] and continued promoting American films abroad.[16]

For nearly three years, studios complied with the Code. By 1938, however, as the threat of war in Europe loomed, movie producers began to worry about the possibility of decreased profits abroad. This led to a decreased investment in following the strictures of the code, and occasional refusals to comply with PCA demands.[5] That same year, responding to trends in European films in the run-up to the war, Hays spoke out against using movies as a vehicle for propaganda.[17] In 1945, after 24 years as president, Hays stepped down from his position at the MPPDA, although he continued to act as an advisor for the Association for the next five years.[18]

Johnston era: 1945–63

In 1945 the MPPDA hired Eric Johnston, four-time president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, to replace Hays.[19] During his first year as president, Johnston rebranded the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).[5]

He also created the Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA) to promote American films abroad by opposing production company monopolies in other countries.[20][21] In 1947 the MPEA voted to discontinue film shipments to Britain after the British government imposed an import tax on American films.[22] Johnston negotiated with the British government to end the tax in 1948, and film shipments resumed.[23]

In 1956, Johnston oversaw the first major revision of the Production Code since it was created in 1930. This revision allowed the treatment of some subjects which had previously been forbidden, including abortion and the use of narcotics, so long as they were "within the limits of good taste". At the same time, the revisions added a number of new restrictions to the code, including outlawing the depiction of blasphemy and mercy killings in films.[24]

Johnston was well-liked by studio executives, and his political connections helped him function as an effective liaison between Hollywood and Washington.[25] In 1963, while still serving as president of the MPAA, Johnston died of a stroke.[26] For three years, the MPAA operated without a president while studio executives searched for a replacement.[27]

Valenti era: 1966–2004

Jack Valenti was the president of Motion Picture Association of America for 38 years.

The MPAA appointed Jack Valenti, former aide to President Lyndon Johnson, as president of the MPAA in 1966.[28] In 1968, Valenti replaced the Production Code with a system of voluntary film ratings, in order to limit censorship of Hollywood films and provide parents with information about the appropriateness of films for children.[29] In addition to concerns about protecting children,[30] Valenti stated in his autobiography that he sought to ensure that American filmmakers could produce the films they wanted, without the censorship that existed under the Production Code that had been in effect since 1934.[29]

In 1975, Valenti established the Film Security Office, an anti-piracy division at the MPAA, which sought to recover unauthorized recordings of films to prevent duplication.[28][31] Valenti continued to fight piracy into the 1980s, asking Congress to install chips in VCRs that would prevent illegal reproduction of video cassettes,[32] and in the 1990s supported law enforcement efforts to stop bootleg distribution of video tapes.[33] Valenti also oversaw a major change in the ratings system that he had helped create—the removal of the "X" rating, which had come to be closely associated with pornography. It was replaced with a new rating, "NC-17", in 1990.[34][35]

In 1994 the Motion Picture Export Association of America changed its name to the Motion Picture Association to more accurately reflect the global nature of audiovisual entertainment in today's international marketplace.[36]

In 2001, Valenti established the Digital Strategy Department at the MPAA to specifically address issues surrounding digital film distribution and piracy.[28][37]

Modern era: 2004–present

After serving as president of the MPAA for 38 years, Valenti announced that he would step down in 2004.[38] In September of that year, he was replaced by former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman.[28] During his tenure, Glickman focused on tax issues, content protection efforts, and increasing U.S. studios' access to international markets.[39] He led lobbying efforts that resulted in $400 million in federal tax incentives for the movie industry, and also supported a law which created federal oversight of anti-piracy efforts.[40] Glickman stepped down in 2010.[39][41]

After a search which lasted over a year, the MPAA hired former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd to replace Glickman in March 2011.[42] In his role as president, Dodd focused on content protection, trade, and improving Hollywood's image.[43] He traveled to China in 2011 in an effort to encourage the Chinese government to both crack down on piracy and further open its film market.[44] A settlement of a long-argued World Trade Organization complaint, coupled with Dodd's efforts, contributed to the United States' agreement with China in 2012 to open China's film market to more Hollywood films and to increase U.S. studios' share of box-office revenues in China.[45] In addition to this agreement with China, the U.S. signed more than 20 memos of understanding with foreign governments regarding the enforcement of intellectual property rights during Dodd's tenure at the MPAA.[46]

In 2011, the MPAA supported the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).[47] After the two bills were shelved in early 2012, Dodd indicated that Hollywood might cut off campaign contributions to politicians who failed to support anti-piracy efforts in the future.[48]

In 2012, the MPAA launched the Diversity and Multicultural Outreach program, as part of an effort to increase diversity in the television and film industry both through employment and representation on screen.[49] Since its inception, the Diversity and Multicultural and Outreach group has conducted outreach and partnered with more than 20 multicultural groups and national civil rights organizations in sponsoring film screenings, festivals, and other diversity-themed events.[50]

Throughout his tenure at the MPAA, Dodd also highlighted the need for movie studios to embrace technology as a means of distributing content.[51]

In June 2017, the MPAA supported the launch of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), a coalition of entertainment companies, including the six major studios, Netflix and Amazon, that would draw on the MPAA's resources in an effort to reduce online piracy through research and legal efforts.[52]

Former U.S. diplomat and Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin succeeded Chris Dodd as CEO on September 5, 2017, and as chairman effective December 6, 2017. On January 25, 2019, film streaming service Netflix announced that it had joined the MPAA in an effort to identify itself among the major studios.[53]

In September 2019, the association updated its branding to reflect the global nature of the film, television, and streaming industry, officially changing its name to the Motion Picture Association (MPA), a name which it has used internationally since 1994. An updated logo also went into effect at this time.[54]


The Motion Picture Association represents the interests of the six international producers and distributors of filmed entertainment. To do so, they promote and protect the intellectual property rights of these companies and conduct public awareness programs to highlight to movie fans around the world the importance of content protection.

The organizations act on behalf of the members of the Motion Picture Association. They have worldwide operations which are directed from their head offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. with regional operations in Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Canada.[55]

Film rating system

In 1968, the MPAA established the Code and Rating Administration, or CARA (later renamed the Classification and Rating Administration), which began issuing ratings for films exhibited and distributed commercially in the United States to help parents determine what films are appropriate for their children.

Since the rating system was first introduced in November 1968, it has gone through several changes, including the addition of a PG-13 rating.[56][57] The ratings system is completely voluntary, and ratings have no legal standing.[58][59] Instead, theater owners enforce the MPAA film ratings after they have been assigned,[60] with many theaters refusing to exhibit non-rated films.[61] An unrated film is often denoted by "NR", such as in newspapers, although this is not a formal MPAA rating.[62]

In 2006 the film This Film Is Not Yet Rated alleged that the MPAA gave preferential treatment to member studios during the process of assigning ratings,[63] as well as criticizing the rating process for its lack of transparency. In response, the MPAA posted its ratings rules, policies, and procedures, as well as its appeals process, online.[64]

According to a 2015 study commissioned by CARA, ninety-three percent of parents in the U.S. find the rating system to be a helpful tool.[65]

The ratings currently used by the MPAA's voluntary system are:[66]

RatingMeaningMPAA's Explanation
GGeneral Audiences"Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children."

On the box: "All ages admitted"

PGParental Guidance Suggested"Parents urged to give 'parental guidance.' May contain some material parents might not like for their young children."

On the box: "Some material may not be suitable for children"

PG-13Parents Strongly Cautioned"Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers."

On the box: "Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13"

RRestricted"Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them."

On the box: "Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian"

NC-17Adults Only"Clearly adult. Children are not admitted."

On the box: "No One 17 and Under Admitted"


The original members of the MPAA were the "Big Eight" film studios: Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Loews, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, United Artists and RKO Pictures.[67] Two years later, Loews merged with Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Productions to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[68]

United Artists briefly resigned from the organization in 1956 over a ratings dispute, although they rejoined later in the decade.[69] By 1966, Allied Artists Pictures had joined the original members.[70] In the following decade, new members joining the MPAA included Avco Embassy in 1975 and Walt Disney Studios in 1979.[71][72][73] The next year, Filmways became a MPAA member, but was later replaced in 1986 along with Avco Embassy when the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and Orion Pictures joined the MPAA roster.[72]

As of 1995, the MPAA members were MGM—which included United Artists after their 1981 merger, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures—which included Columbia and TriStar Pictures after their acquisition in 1989, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros.[74][75] Turner Entertainment joined the MPAA in 1995, but was purchased in 1996 by Time Warner.[76][77]

At the beginning of 2019, the MPAA's member companies were Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox (acquired by Disney in March),[78] Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros.[79] Netflix was approved as a new member in January 2019, making it the first non-studio and the first streaming service to be part of the organization. The addition of Netflix also helped to maintain the number of members after the acquisition of 20th Century Fox by Disney. The MPAA aims to recruit additional members.[80]

Content protection efforts

The MPA's concerted efforts at fighting copyright infringement began in 1975 with the establishment of the Film Security Office, which sought to recover unauthorized recordings of films in order to prevent duplication.[28][31] The MPA has continued to pursue a number of initiatives to combat illegal distribution of films and TV shows, especially in response to new technologies. In the 1980s, it spoke out against VCRs and the threat that the MPA believed they represented to the movie industry,[81] with MPAA president Jack Valenti drawing a parallel between the threat of the VCR and that of the Boston Strangler.[82] In 1986, the MPAA asked Congress to pass a law that would require VCRs to come equipped with a chip to prevent them from making copies.[32] Legal efforts at stopping homemade copies of broadcast television largely ended, however, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that such copying constituted fair use.[83]

The MPA continued to support law enforcement efforts to stop bootleg production and distribution of videotapes and laserdiscs into the 1990s,[33][84] and in 2000 took successful legal action against individuals posting DVD decryption software on the Internet in Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes.[85] Following the release of RealDVD—an application that enabled users to make copies of DVDs—RealNetworks sued the DVD Copy Control Association and the major studios in 2008 over the legality of the software, accusing them of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.[86] The judgment found there were no grounds for the antitrust claim and dismissed the suit.[87] The court later found that the RealNetworks product violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).[88]

The MPA has continued to support law enforcement efforts to prevent illegal distribution of copyrighted materials online.[89] The MPA and its British counterpart, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), also funded the training of Lucky and Flo, a pair of Labrador Retrievers, to detect polycarbonates used in the manufacturing of DVDs.[90]

The MPA strives to protect the creative rights of the large corporate film makers. Its counterpart has come up with infamous slogans such as "Who Makes Movies?" and "You can click, but you can't hide."[91]

Online file sharing

In the early 2000s, the MPAA began focusing its efforts to curb copyright infringement specifically on peer-to-peer file sharing, initially using a combination of educational campaigns[92] and cease and desist letters to discourage such activity. In the first six months of 2002, the MPAA sent more than 18,000 such letters to internet service providers to forward to users engaged in copyright infringement.[93]

In late 2004, the MPAA changed course and filed lawsuits in a concerted effort to address copyright infringement on a number of large online file-sharing services, including BitTorrent and eDonkey.[94] The following year, the MPAA expanded its legal actions to include lawsuits against individuals who downloaded and distributed copyrighted material via peer-to-peer networks.[95]

The MPAA also played a role in encouraging the Swedish government to conduct a raid of the Pirate Bay file-sharing website in May 2006.[96] Swedish officials have acknowledged that part of the motivation for the raid was the threat of sanctions from the World Trade Organization, along with a letter from the MPAA.[97][98]

In 2013 the Center for Copyright Information unveiled the Copyright Alert System, a system established through an agreement between the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, and five of the USA's largest internet service providers.[99] The system used a third-party service to identify content being distributed illegally. Users were then informed that their accounts were being used for possible copyright infringement and were provided with information about ways to get authorized content online.[100] Users who received multiple notices of infringement faced "mitigations measures," such as temporary slowing of their Internet service, but the system did not include termination of subscriber accounts. Subscribers facing such action had a right to appeal to the American Arbitration Association.[101] In January 2017, the Copyright Alert System was discontinued. While no official reason was given, the MPAA's general counsel stated that the system had not been equipped to stop repeat infringers.[102]

On December 24, 2014, the Sony Pictures hack revealed that following a lawsuit in which the MPAA won a multimillion judgment against Hotfile, a file hosting website, the MPAA colluded with Hotfile to misrepresent the settlement so that the case would serve as a deterrent. The settlement was previously believed to be $80 million and was widely reported; however, Hotfile only paid the studios $4 million and agreed to have the $80 million figure recorded as the judgment and the website shut down.[103][104][105]

In a case resolved in 2015, the MPAA and others supported the United States International Trade Commission (ITC)'s decision to consider electronic transmissions to the U.S. as "articles" so that it could prevent the importation of digital files of counterfeit goods. While the case being considered by the ITC involved dental appliances, the ITC could have also used such authority to bar the importation of pirated movies and TV shows from rogue foreign websites that traffic in infringing content.[106] The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals took up the matter, and ultimately ruled against the ITC.[107]

In 2016, the MPAA reported Putlocker as one of the "top 5 rogue cyberlocker services" to the Office of the United States Trade Representative as a major piracy threat; the website was then blocked in the United Kingdom.[108][109][110]

Criticism and controversies

Publicity campaigns

The MPAA has also produced publicity campaigns to discourage piracy. The Who Makes Movies? advertising campaign in 2003 highlighted workers in the movie industry describing how piracy affected them. The video spots ran as trailers before movies, and as television advertisements.[111] In 2004, the MPAA began using the slogan "You can click, but you can't hide". This slogan appeared in messages that replaced file-sharing websites after they had been shut down through MPAA legal action.[112] It also appeared in posters and videos distributed to video stores by the MPAA.[113] Also in 2004, the MPAA partnered with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore to release a trailer shown before films in theaters equating piracy with theft.[114] The trailer was later placed at the beginning of the video on many DVDs in such a way that it could not be bypassed (not being able to skip or fast-forward), which triggered criticism and a number of parodies.[115]

In 2005, the MPAA commissioned a study to examine the effects of file sharing on movie industry profitability. The study concluded that the industry lost $6.1 billion per year to piracy, and that up to 44 percent of domestic losses were due to file sharing by college students. In 2008, the MPAA revised the percentage of loss due to college students down to 15 percent, citing human error in the initial calculations of this figure. Beyond the percentage of the loss that was attributable to college students, however, no other errors were found in the study.[116]

In 2015, theaters began airing the MPAA's "I Make Movies" series, an ad campaign intended to combat piracy by highlighting the stories of behind-the-scenes employees in the film and television industry.[117] The series pointed audiences to the MPAA's "WhereToWatch" website (later dubbed "The Credits")[118] which provides attention to the behind-the-scenes creativity involved in making movies.

The MPAA itself has been accused of copyright infringement on multiple occasions. In 2007, the creator of a blogging platform called Forest Blog accused the MPAA of violating the license for the platform, which required that users link back to the Forest Blog website. The MPAA had used the platform for its own blog, but without linking back to the Forest Blog website. The MPAA subsequently took the blog offline, and explained that the software had been used on a test basis and the blog had never been publicized.[119][120]

Also in 2007, the MPAA released a software toolkit for universities to help identify cases of file sharing on campus. The software used parts of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, released under the General Public License, which stipulates that the source code of any projects using the distribution be made available to third parties. The source code for the MPAA's toolkit, however, was not made available. When the MPAA was made aware of the violation, the software toolkit was removed from their website.[121]

In 2006, the MPAA admitted having made illegal copies of This Film Is Not Yet Rated (a documentary exploring the MPAA itself and the history of its rating system)[122] — an act which Ars Technica explicitly described as hypocrisy[123] and which Roger Ebert called "rich irony".[124] The MPAA subsequently claimed that it had the legal right to copy the film despite this being counter to the filmmaker's explicit request, because the documentary's exploration of the MPAA's ratings board was potentially a violation of the board members' privacy.[122]

International activities

Around the world the MPA helps with local law enforcement to combat piracy.

The MPA Offices in the world are

See also


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