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Document Friday: CENTCOM’s Efforts to Combat Piracy

May 14, 2010

The Jolly Roger

This United States Central Command document relates more to The Pirates of the Caribbean than to the Pirates of the Aden.  The purpose of these 20 April 2008 talking points (entitled “Pirated Movies in Iraq”) is to “provide guidance on answering queries about the sale of pirated movies on Coalition bases in Iraq.”  In addition to staying hydrated, protecting civilians, and avoiding IEDs, soldiers and officers stationed in Iraq must additionally confront Hollywood’s concerns that they films they enjoy while serving may come from unauthorized sources.

These talking points appear to have stemmed from a 2006 USA Today article that reported that pirated DVDs were “one of the hottest black market items” sold on Baghdad’s streets.  After the report was published, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) began querying the US Embassy in Iraq about the country’s film piracy situation.

CENTCOM’s talking points appear to be an attempt to give the Command plausible deniability regarding its soldiers’ illegal viewing habits.  The guidance states, “Coalition forces respect the rights of movie producers to make a profit from their creative endeavors,” and reports that AAFES facilities prohibit the sale of pirated goods.  However, when asked if US troops were banned from visiting shops that sell pirated films, spokesmen were instructed to answer, “No….banning our troops from visiting these shops would have the unwelcome secondary effect of harming Iraqi entrepreneurs selling legitimate goods.”  The sovereignty of Iraqi law was also cited.

The MPAA has continued to target US armed forces abroad in its attempts to stem piracy.  According to one news report, soldiers –who do not have access to US media via legal streaming services, such as Amazon or Netflix–  often use the Bit Torrent file sharing protocol to “download as much as possible.”  Reportedly, the MPAA attempts to stop these military personnel from watching films and shows illegally by sending daily cease and desist notices to them via their base ISPs.

Talking Points on Pirated Movies in Iraq

In a nod to the special relationship between the MPAA and US Forces, CENTCOM’s talking points thanked the Hollywood entertainers who regularly visit and entertain US troops and lauded the military’s “long-standing positive relationship with [the] entertainment industry.”

One example of this “positive relationship” is the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker, which vividly portrays the extreme courage of bomb disposal troops serving in Iraq.  Ironically, the film’s crux centers around one brave US soldier’s attempt to save a young, exuberant Iraqi boy —whom he befriended on his base while haggling over the price of pirated DVDs.

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