What is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)?

The MPAA was founded in 1922, with its first president being Will H. Hays.
The Motion Picture Association of America provides ratings that are meant to identify which films are appropriate for which ages.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
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  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2014
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MPAA is an acronym for Motion Picture Association of America, which was originally titled the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America. It is an organization to which many of the major movie producing studios belong, including Buena Vista, Sony, Paramount, Fox, Warner Brothers, and Universal. The principle work of the organization is to control distribution of movies, work to combat illegal copying of films, and to administer film ratings.

The MPAA was founded in 1922, and the first president of the nonprofit trade association was former Postmaster General, Will H. Hays. Under his leadership, Hays created the Production Code, a group of standards that had to be met for a film to be considered appropriate material for a general audience. Some films prior to the advent of the code were downright racy, and inspired the wrath of many organizations across the country, including numerous religious groups. The code was abandoned in 1967 and replaced with the MPAA rating system, which has undergone numerous changes since it was first adopted.


The longest serving president of the trade association was Jack Valenti, who held the position from 1966-2004. Valenti is credited with most of the association’s changes that have occurred over time. He developed the rating system, and later revamped it to its current incarnation. He also saw the potential profit loss that might occur to film studios if files were shared on the Internet, and very successfully lobbied for the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes illegal various forms of copyright infringement via digital means.

There have been numerous criticisms of the MPAA leveled at virtually every aspect under which the association operates. Significant criticism is leveled at the current movie ratings system, which has been proven to increasingly allow more violence into films rated at the PG-13 level. Others suggest that any rating is a form of censorship and should be banned, though this is not a popular line of argument, particularly among parents.

Since most of the major studios belong to the MPAA, it has been argued that the organization is a monopoly, and accusations have been leveled against it that it deliberately attempts to control or thwart distribution of films made by independent studios, and may rate them more harshly than they would films of member studios. Though the association can be vehement in protecting copyright laws that infringe upon the products of its member studios, it has sometimes violated these laws to promote itself.

In particular, in 2007, several charges of copyright violation by the MPAA have angered those already disposed to criticize the organization. Since the association has sought to enforce anti-piracy laws with such force, critics feel they must act with the same standard of behavior they impose upon others. With charges of monopoly and playing loose with copyright laws (at least in a few incidents), there are some that feel the organization should be disbanded and that it inhibits freedom of independent studios and directors, and the free sharing of information.

There is a flipside. Virtually every well-known American producer is affiliated with the MPAA, and most high profile directors work for studios with this affiliation. The association can make distribution much easier for member studios, and even if the rating system is flawed, many argue this is better than no rating system. Current ratings offer some guidelines on what you might expect to be see in a movie of a certain rating. The MPAA also benefits producers and movie companies through its continued battle to end copyright infringement, thus maximizing profits.


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