The Big Picture for the Big Screen

Paramount’s Daniel Cooper explains how IP in the entertainment industry includes much more than just enforcement

In the film Forrest Gump, the title character consistently crosses paths with significant historical events over the course of several decades. One could say that Daniel Cooper has had a similar experience as senior vice president of intellectual property (IP) at Paramount Pictures—the company that also distributed the Academy Award-winning film in 1994.

No, Cooper didn’t serve in the Vietnam War. Nor did he captain a shrimping boat in the middle of Hurricane Carmen. But he has consistently found himself at the center of history—major confluences of what he calls the “intersection of copyright and technology” over his nearly twenty-year career. His résumé includes work on the landmark Napster case, the wild west social media heyday of Myspace, and a tenure at Paramount that seems to continually challenge and redefine the role of IP in entertainment. It’s quite the list for someone who initially didn’t see himself in the entertainment world at all.

Cooper, who has been at Paramount since 2011, says that acclimating to the incredibly complicated yet fascinating world of show business provides an assortment of challenges. “I didn’t grow up in the movie industry,” Cooper says. “It was new to me and something that I’ve had to learn.”

Prior to joining Paramount, Cooper served as vice president for business and affairs at Fox Interactive, a position that included overseeing all IP and compliance issues for Myspace during the company’s stint as the only social media platform that mattered in the mid-2000s. He sees his experience at Fox Interactive as invaluable in helping him develop a broader perspective when it comes to the role of tech in Paramount’s more content-focused approach. “The copyright world is very polarized in the sense that, nowadays, you have content owners on one side, technology companies on another, and there’s this perception that there’s this gulf between them that can’t be bridged,” Cooper explains. While he says there may be some truth to that divide, Cooper believes that significant progress continues to be made in the convergence between content and tech.

That broad perspective is especially necessary when it comes to rights enforcement. When making the decision to pursue an enforcement matter, Cooper must keep in mind that Paramount isn’t only a rights holder, but also a content user. “In the context of creating motion pictures, you’re using others’ IP either by fair use or by license,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to see the broader perspective of what you argue in one instance or it may come back to bite you in another. It helps to see things through that broader prism.”

Cooper describes his work at Paramount as occasionally “like trying to drink out of a fire hose,” yet at the same time it’s exciting in variety. While Paramount—home to such iconic films as Titanic, the Transformers franchise, and the Indiana Jones saga, to name a few—is a name that virtually everyone would recognize, the company is lean when compared to its competitors. Cooper says the breadth of his position means he’s not in danger of becoming siloed.

A routine day can be anything from encountering acquisition and development issues to production and clearance tasks, marketing and distribution advice, enforcement issues, and even archival matters. “It’s really a full life cycle of IP throughout the motion picture and TV business,” Cooper says.

Navigating the seemingly endless duties of his position can be tricky, but Cooper credits his team: “Given how broad my overall portfolio is, micromanaging is impossible,” he says. “I’m fortunate enough to have really strong people that know
when to involve me, I give them the leeway to do that, and I trust them.”

Even though Paramount is primarily known as a film studio, the company relaunched its television group in 2013 in an effort to diversify in an evolving entertainment landscape. “The film business is almost by definition up-and-down, and you need more of the stability of TV to weather those peaks and valleys,” Cooper explains.

He believes that the diversification of content is key to helping the company be successful even in the lean times. That focus on television has meant expanded roles not only for IP, but also for the studio at large. Cooper has worked to make his team of eighteen more of a “one-stop shop for rights” to help streamline the process and ensure tasks can be ushered to completion in just one place, regardless of where they’re coming from. “There are all sorts of issues where rights come up, and our philosophy has always been, ‘We’ll handle that,’” Cooper says.

Cooper’s IP experience couldn’t have begun under any more trying circumstances. Fresh out of law school, he joined the team representing rights holders in their suit against Napster during the file-sharing app’s unprecedented rise of the late 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, it might have been one of the least popular jobs in the world.

“I remember at the time being twenty-four or twenty-five and taking heat from all of my friends for being on the wrong side of history, so to speak,” Cooper recalls. “That was a view that, ultimately, was short-sided.”

Everyone loves content, Cooper says, but many don’t realize how expensive it is to produce and distribute that content. And while he acknowledges that the music and movie industries operate differently, both rely on the few and far between hits to help subsidize other projects. While Napster forever changed the music model, Cooper sees positive signs—at least in the United States—of a changing model and, hopefully, an ability to look back on the mass piracy years similar to the steroid era of baseball: a boom followed by a stiff sea change.

Although Cooper’s life experience may rival that of a character such as Forrest Gump, the movie itself doesn’t top the IP expert’s favorite movie list. That honor goes to another one of Paramount’s award-winning films: The Godfather.

“It’s one of those movies that every time it’s on, I think to myself, ‘I can watch that for a while,’” he says.