Wright received the organization's Freedom of Speech Award Wednesday night. In his overview of the First Amendment, Wright zeroed in on one particular portion: Article 1, Section 8 - the Copyright Clause - which authorizes Congress to grant to "authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."
"This is what enables companies like NBC Universal to invest millions of dollars to transform a creative idea into a movie or television show," he said. "Today, this constitutional protection is under enormous pressure and requires our vigilant attention. I know that The Media Institute will be our ally on this issue, too, which is a threat not only to media, but to a broad cross-section of U.S. industries and export businesses."
But Wright was not all doom and gloom. He said that while NBC Universal is eagerly exploring the depths of new technologies to roll out digital, on-demand services. He added that he would like nothing more than to make accessing video as easy as Apple's iPod has made accessing music.
But the experience of the recording industry - "decimated by illegal downloads," he said - teaches an important lesson: If the technology isn't managed properly, it has the power to do a lot of damage, "by facilitating theft, not commerce," Wright said.
"Already, the economic costs of intellectual property theft are staggering," he said. "According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, it amounts to $250 billion a year - more than the combined global revenues of the nation's top 25 media companies. This represents thousands of jobs, and millions in lost taxes. The best solutions to IP theft will come from technology, not legislation."
Wright derided the notion that intellectual property violations are a fair price to pay for the advent of a new digital age.
As for potential solutions, he offered up suggestions, such as supporting the House Judiciary Committee's package of antipiracy bills, which Wright argued is "currently in limbo," and developing legal safeguards against illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing.
"It is now time for the leadership of the industries involved to come together to find a collaborative solution, so that the long-awaited marriage of technology and content can finally take place," Wright concluded. "The solutions are there. What's needed is the will to develop and implement them."