Piracy fears threaten Hollywood innovation

Studios cook up new ways of doing business, but security concerns may create too much static.

SANTA MONICA, Calif.--Digital technology will eventually force big changes in how Hollywood sells movies, but security remains a key stumbling block.

Imagine, for instance, a technology that one day might allow a studio to release "Spider-Man 3" simultaneously in theaters and for sale over Internet-enabled, high-definition televisions. Such a move would be unprecedented, breaking current "release windows" that keep movies off video rental store shelves for months after they premiere.

But before that can ever happen, Hollywood would need strict anticopying guarantees. Specifically, locks would need to be pushed deep into the guts of television set-top boxes, PCs and home networks--broaching a hot-button issue that's riled device makers that largely oppose such measures.


What's new:
Hollywood's security fears may delay new ways of doing business made possible by the Internet and an array of digital services.

Bottom line:
Studio executives want strict anticopying guarantees, and they're pushing both for new legislation and new technologies to retain control of content distribution.

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"We don't want to be MP3-ified," Sony Pictures Entertainment Executive Vice President Mitch Singer said this week at Digital Hollywood conference here.

Singer was referring to copyright headaches for the music business that were brought on by the Internet and the MP3 music file format. "We have to make our content better than free and fast. But until there's security...(the PC) will not be the platform of choice for new business models."

Like the music industry before it, Hollywood is at a crossroads. New technologies from digital video recorders to portable video players promise to make its products more available than ever before, and the studios hope to use these to tap into vast new opportunities for profits. But at the same time, executives fear consumers could soon have so much control over when and how they consume their products that the studios will wind up losing out.

Studio executives gathered at the Digital Hollywood conference to debate new ways of doing business made possible by the Internet, home networks and a burgeoning array of digital devices. They also warned that copyright concerns could delay for years new products and services that fully take advantage of the new technologies.

At the heart of the debate are so-called digital rights management (DRM) tools that aim to prevent unauthorized access to digital files, including music and video. DRM is considered a crucial glue for new digital entertainment services, giving studios, record labels and others powerful tools for protecting their copyrighted works, and laying the groundwork for profitable new ways to sell their products.

Locking down content
The studios are pushing both legislation and technology to help maintain control over their products.

"We're not antitechnology--we want technology to be smart enough to stop people from stealing our stuff," said Ron Wheeler, senior vice president of content protection at the Fox Group.

On that front, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Hollywood's chief U.S. lobby group, has pushed technology known

"We're not antitechnology--we want technology to be smart enough to stop people from stealing our stuff."
--Ron Wheeler, senior VP of content protection, Fox Group
as the "

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