Studios to OK copying movie downloads to disc

People who download movies off the Web will soon be able to copy them to specially made DVDs.

Accused often of being anti-consumer when it comes to digital media, the movie industry has plans to relax controls over how films are copied to DVDs.

In the past, watching a movie downloaded off the Web meant viewing it on a PC. Soon, people will be able to copy a digital movie onto a specially made DVD under rule changes expected to be adopted by the DVD Copy Control Association, the group that produces the technology designed to prevent DVDs from being copied.

Digital movies, which are offered by such companies as CinemaNow and Movielink, have so far failed to catch on with the public. One of the big complaints from consumers has been that downloaded movies are prevented from being copied to disc and, thus, watched on TV sets.

The reason for this is that Hollywood studios feared downloads would be easily pirated. Despite the precautions, unauthorized films continue to be distributed on the Web.

The latest move by the association fits with Hollywood's overall strategy to combat piracy by offering consumers a legal, inexpensive and convenient way to obtain digital movies so they won't bother to steal them.

"We want to give people the entertainment they want and offer it to them in the ways they want to use it," said Greg Larson, the association's spokesman.

Retailers in the video-on-demand business say this is only the first of many upgrades to the video-on-demand business. Tom McInerney, founder and CEO of Guba, a video-sharing site that recently negotiated deals with Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainment to sell downloadable movies, implores critics of the video-on-demand market to be patient.

"This is only the first minute of the first quarter in this industry," McInerney said. "Now you can burn movies to DVDs, and soon broadband improvements are going to allow a speedier delivery of films over the Net. It's all coming together."

To allow copies to be made, the DVD Copy Control Association will have to make "adaptations" to the group's encryption technology, which is called the Content Scramble System, or CSS, Larson said. The association, made up of Hollywood studios, consumer electronics and software companies, licenses CSS to those in the DVD industry to protect content.

In a statement, the association said that an updated version of CSS could allow retailers to place kiosks on showroom floors and allow consumers to watch as a digital movie recording is placed on a blank DVD while they wait. The association didn't say whether any merchants were considering such a plan, but McInerney said he predicted that retailers might find such kiosks appealing because no longer would they need to stock shelves with prepackaged copies of movies.

"A retailer could increase the size of their movie libraries without taking up additional floor space," McInerney said.

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