Motion Picture Association of America
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is an American trade
association that represents the six major
Hollywood studios. It was
founded in 1922 as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of
America (MPPDA). 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 MPAA’s
Classification and Rating Administration (CARA).
More recently, the MPAA has advocated for the motion picture and
television industry with the goals of promoting effective copyright
protection, reducing piracy, and expanding market access. The MPAA 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
1.1 Foundation and early history: 1922–29
1.2 Production Code: 1930–34
1.3 War years: 1935–45
1.4 Johnston era: 1945–63
1.5 Valenti era: 1966–2004
1.6 Modern era: 2004–present
Film rating system
4 Content protection efforts
4.1 Online file sharing
5 Criticism and controversies
5.1 Publicity campaigns
5.2 Accusations of copyright infringement
6 See also
8 External links
Foundation and early history: 1922–29
The MPAA 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. Former Postmaster General
Will H. Hays
Will H. Hays was named the
association's first president.
The main focus of the MPPDA in its early years was on producing a
strong public relations campaign to ensure that
financially stable and able to attract investment from Wall Street,
while simultaneously ensuring that American films had a "clean moral
tone". 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
From the early days of the association, Hays spoke out against public
censorship, and the MPPDA worked to raise support from the
general public for the film industry's efforts against such
censorship. Large portions of the public opposed censorship, but
also decried the lack of morals in movies.
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 oveseen by a local censorship board. 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. In 1929, more than 50 percent of American moviegoers
lived in a location overseen by such a board.
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 MPDDA 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.
In 1927, Hays oversaw the creation of a code of "Don'ts and Be
Carefuls" for the industry. 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
Hollywood scripts prior to production, and the number of
regional and local censorship boards continued to increase.
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. Unlike the "Dont's and Be
Carefuls", which the studios had ignored, the Production Code was
endorsed by studio executives. 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.
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
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. 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, and any producer
attempting to do so faced a fine of $25,000. 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.
War years: 1935–45
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. At the same time, Hays promoted the industry's new focus
on wholesome films and continued promoting American films
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. 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. 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.
Johnston era: 1945–63
In 1945 the MPPDA hired Eric Johnston, four-time president of the
United States Chamber of Commerce, to replace Hays. During his
first year as president, Johnston rebranded the Motion Picture
Producers and Distributors of America as the Motion Picture
Association of America (MPAA).
He also created the Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA) to
promote American films abroad by opposing production company
monopolies in other countries. In 1947 the MPEA voted to
discontinue film shipments to Britain after the British government
imposed an import tax on American films. Johnston negotiated with
the British government to end the tax in 1948, and film shipments
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.
Johnston was well-liked by studio executives, and his political
connections helped him function as an effective liaison between
Hollywood and Washington. In 1963, while still serving as
president of the MPAA, Johnston died of a stroke. For three years,
the MPAA operated without a president while studio executives searched
for a replacement.
Valenti era: 1966–2004
Jack Valenti was the president of Motion Picture Association of
America for 38 years.
The MPAA hired Jack Valenti, former aide to President Lyndon Johnson,
as president of the MPAA in 1966. 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. In
addition to concerns about protecting children, 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
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. Valenti continued to fight
piracy into the 1980s, asking Congress to install chips in VCRs that
would prevent illegal reproduction of video cassettes, and in the
1990s supported law enforcement efforts to stop bootleg distribution
of video tapes. 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.
In 2001 Valenti established the Digital Strategy Department at the
MPAA to specifically address issues surrounding digital film
distribution and piracy.
Modern era: 2004–present
After serving as president of the MPAA for 38 years, Valenti announced
that he would step down in 2004. In September of that year, he was
replaced by former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. During
his tenure, Glickman focused on tax issues, content protection
efforts, and increasing U.S. studios’ access to international
markets. 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.
Glickman stepped down in 2010.
After a search which lasted over a year, the MPAA hired former U.S.
Chris Dodd to replace Glickman in March 2011. In his role
as president, Dodd focused on content protection, trade, and improving
Hollywood's image. 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. 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. 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.
In 2011, the MPAA supported the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act
PROTECT IP Act
PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). 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.
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. 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
Throughout his tenure at the MPAA, Dodd also highlighted the need for
movie studios to embrace technology as a means of distributing
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
will draw on the MPAA’s resources in an effort to reduce online
piracy through research and legal efforts.
As announced on April 28, 2017, former U.S. Ambassador to France and
Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles
Chris Dodd as CEO of the Motion Picture Association
of America, effective September 5, 2017, and as chairman, effective
December 6, 2017.
Film rating system
Motion Picture Association of America
Motion Picture Association of America 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. The ratings system is completely voluntary, and
ratings have no legal standing. Instead, theater owners
enforce the MPAA film ratings after they have been assigned, with
many theaters refusing to exhibit non-rated films. An unrated film
is often denoted by "NR", such as in newspapers, although this is not
a formal MPAA rating.
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, 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,
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
The ratings currently used by the MPAA's voluntary system are:
"Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children."
On the box: "All ages admitted"
Parental 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"
Parents Strongly Cautioned
"Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate
On the box: "Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13"
"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"
"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 Studios, Warner
Bros., Columbia Pictures, United Artists, and RKO Pictures. Two
years later, Loews merged with Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and
Louis B. Mayer
Louis B. Mayer Productions to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
United Artists briefly resigned from the organization in 1956 over a
ratings dispute, although they rejoined later in the decade. By
1966, Allied Artists Pictures had joined the original members. In
the following decade, new members joining the MPAA included Avco
Embassy in 1975 and Walt Disney Studios in 1979. The next
Filmways became a MPAA member, but was later replaced in 1986
along with Avco Embassy when the
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and
Orion Pictures joined the MPAA roster.
In 1995 the MPAA members were: the Walt Disney Studios; Paramount
Pictures; Universal Studios; Warner Bros; 20th Century Fox;
United Artists after their 1981 merger—and Sony
Pictures, which included Columbia and
TriStar Pictures after their
acquisition in 1989.
Turner Entertainment joined the MPAA in
1995, but was purchased in 1996 by Time Warner.
As of 2017 the MPAA member companies are: Walt Disney Studios;
Paramount Pictures Corporation;
Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.;
Twentieth Century Fox; Universal Studios LLC; and Warner Bros
Content protection efforts
The MPAA'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. The MPAA 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 MPAA believed they represented to
the movie industry, with MPAA president
Jack Valenti drawing a
parallel between the threat of the VCR and that of the Boston
Strangler. 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. 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.
The MPAA continued to support law enforcement efforts to stop bootleg
production and distribution of videos tapes and laserdiscs into the
1990s, and in 2000 took successful legal action against
DVD decryption software on the Internet in
Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes. Following the release
of RealDVD—an application that enabled users to make copies of
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. The judgment found there
were no grounds for the antitrust claim and dismissed the suit.
The court later found that the
RealNetworks product violated the
Copyright Act (DMCA).
The MPAA has continued to support law enforcement efforts to prevent
illegal distribution of copyrighted materials online. The MPAA and
its British counterpart, the Federation Against
(FACT), also funded the training of Lucky and Flo, a pair of Labrador
Retrievers, to detect polycarbonates used in the manufacturing of
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 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
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
eDonkey. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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
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
Hotfile only paid the studios $4 million and agreed
to have the $80 million figure recorded as the judgment and the
website shut down.
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. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals took
up the matter, and ultimately ruled against the ITC.
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.
Criticism and controversies
The MPAA has also produced publicity campaigns to discourage piracy.
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. 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. It also appeared in posters and videos
distributed to video stores by the MPAA. 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. 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
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.
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. The series pointed audiences to the MPAA’s
"WhereToWatch" website (later dubbed “The Credits”) which
provides attention to the behind-the-scenes creativity involved in
Accusations of copyright infringement
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.
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
In 2006, the MPAA admitted having made illegal copies of This
Not Yet Rated (a documentary exploring the MPAA itself and the history
of its rating system) — an act which
Ars Technica explicitly
described as hypocrisy and which
Roger Ebert called "rich
irony". 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'
United States portal
Australian Classification Board
British Board of
DeCSS: decryption program for
DVD video discs using Content Scramble
Entertainment Software Rating Board
National Association of Theatre Owners
Operation Red Card
You Wouldn't Steal a Car
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MPPDA Digital Archives (1922–1939)
Motion Picture Association of America. Production Code Administration
records, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Filmnummers: list of PCA (and MPAA) certificate numbers and titles
MPPDA - MPAA - The
Motion Picture Production Code
Motion Picture Production Code film numbers to
52000—Includes a downloadable Exc