The Rights Stuff

Two recent movies deal with securing rights — both are riveting, with lessons about why rights are important

The Rights Stuff

Two recent improbable movies share two traits — both are excellent and bracing, and both involve sales people attempting to secure the rights to market and sell things they have a special sense will be successful.

The two movies are Tetris and Air.

Featuring major star power — Matt Damon leading Air, Taron Egerton leading Tetris, and supporting casts of equal stature — the films roll right along, adding in legitimate tension via family and personal interactions reflecting the risk being courted, the need to convince others of a unique insight or vision, and ultimately the union of allies who arrive on the same page in unexpected ways.

Both, of course, are from the era in which intellectual property rights were respected — anything prior to 2000 seems to be fair game for this. We live in an era in which IP rights are customarily disregarded, demonized, and demoted — all due to some pretty thin personal politics that conceals cheapness and greed itself.

A convergence of major shifts in the world order occurs in each film. In Tetris, it is the convergence of the fall of the Soviet Union, the imminent collapse of Robert Maxwell’s media empire, and the invention of the Nintendo GameBoy. In Air, it is the emergence of a game-redefining basketball talent, the desperation of a third-rate shoe company (Nike), and evolutionary strides in sports marketing.

The combined power of these seismic shifts continues to reverberate through the modern world.

In Tetris, the way rights are carefully parsed to find loopholes and leverage is fascinating. Did the competitor get PC rights? Console rights? When Nintendo shifts the paradigm to handheld — a kind of rights nobody contemplated — an opening appears, and events accelerate from there. There are also plenty of people lying about what rights they do and do not own.

In Air, the way Damon’s character works people is the heart of the story — how he convinces his boss, his relevant contacts in the sports world, and ultimately the Jordan family — is a masterclass in sales jocularity and persistence.

If you haven’t seen these films yet, I’d recommend both. They were far more engaging and memorable than I’d imagined they could be, and I applaud the people behind them.

May their rights never be violated. They earned the price of admission.