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Art or IP? What Amazon’s Acquisition of MGM Teaches Us

Acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese noted in a Harper’s Magazine essay earlier this year that “the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content.’” He laments film’s fall from artform to intellectual property, from “theatrical experience” to at-home streaming. Scorsese’s essay was written months before Amazon announced the acquisition of MGM to boost its streaming platform, Amazon Prime. Yet his words predicted the fallout from the latest move in the so-called streaming wars between giants like Netflix, Disney (which owns Disney+ and Hulu), and Amazon Prime. 

Is Scorsese right? Does treating cinema like nothing more than transferable IP rights reduce it to a mere commodity? Or are IP rights, especially in the hands of a company as ubiquitous as Amazon, helping the movies our culture loves hold onto their lasting impact?

An opinion piece in The Guardian titled “Jeff Bezos thinks our cultural heritage is just ‘intellectual property’” argues the former. The author describes the $8.45 billion deal as “[reducing] everything down to numbers and titles, emphasizing the fact that these properties are indeed products.” He suggests that streaming, unlike physical media, reduces the impact of a film. The digital reproduction lacks the benefits of a tangible DVD (or the technology that came before it), which can be shared and cherished as art. 

Jeff Bezos, rather obviously, feels the Amazon-MGM deal is not a detriment to the art within MGM’s vast catalog of movies, series, and characters. Now, because of IP rights, MGM and Amazon can together “reimagine and develop” MGM’s well-known and widely-loved intellectual property “for the 21st century.” Now, James Bond, Rocky Balboa, and the Pink Panther, along with the characters and storylines of thousands of other movies and series, can be introduced to new audiences through both traditional theaters (as James Bond will continue to be released), and streaming platforms Amazon Prime and IMDb TV. Bezos believes this “will be a lot of fun work and people who love stories will be the big beneficiaries.”

Which of these perspectives is closer to the truth in the battle between intellectual property rights and a culture’s appreciation for iconic art? Only time will tell how the Amazon acquisition impacts MGM’s productions (past, present, and future) and our ability to experience and cherish them.