Internet2 is essentially a vastly faster version of the Internet run by universities and technology companies, aimed at facilitating research into high-bandwidth hardware and applications, and helping researchers who exchange huge amounts of data. Student file-swapping traffic also has found its way onto the network, however.
The MPAA has been talking with the research consortium for several months, with an eye toward possibly joining the Internet2 group as a member, or simply opening up a collaborative relationship.
"We've been working with Internet2 for a while to explore ways we can take advantage of delivering content at these extremely high speeds, and basically manage illegitimate content distribution at the same time," said Chris Russell, the MPAA's vice president of Internet standards and technology. "Those would go hand in hand."
The Internet2 project has shown Hollywood the commercial potential--and the dangers--of a network powerful enough to allow a full DVD to be transferred even faster than an ordinary MP3 might be today.
Recently, researchers successfully sent data from Switzerland to Tokyo at speeds of 7.21 gigabits per second. That was enough speed to transfer a full-length DVD anywhere in the world in less than five seconds, researchers said.
Talks between Internet2 and the Hollywood group have been ongoing for almost a year, following a speech that former MPAA chief Jack Valenti gave to university officials focusing on the problems of piracy and the possibility of having any movie ever made available at a moment's notice.
That vision resonated with Internet2 researchers, who are already exploring new models of content delivery. At least one studio, Warner Bros., is already a member of the group, as is the Napster online music service. The two groups have been discussing potential collaboration since.
"This wraps together the broad interest we have in working with our members and potential members on advanced content delivery," said Internet2 Vice President Gary Bachula. "Obviously we're interested in making sure that's legal and safe."
Researchers have themselves been watching the growth of file-swapping traffic on the next-generation networks with some concern for several years.
University of Oregon researcher Joe St. Sauver presented a paper in early 2002 showing that on many spans of the network, file trades related to the Kazaa and Morpheus software accounted for as much as 30 percent of network traffic while school was in session.
The share of Internet2 bandwidth taken up by file-sharing traffic is today much lower, typically under 7 percent, although a large amount of network measurement traffic has been added to the total mix since 2002, pushing the percentage of all other applications down. St. Sauver said many universities also have added network control tools that can block or slow file-swapping traffic.
The rise of supercharged file-swapping services like i2Hub has caught copyright holders' eyes in recent months, however. Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, testified to Congress early last month that the fast university networks posed their own special risk to copyright holders.
"The speed of these networks--up to thousands of times faster than ordinary Internet networks?-allows users to obtain copyrighted movies in minutes and music in seconds," Sherman told legislators. "Further, the closed nature of these networks, being available only to those engaged in academia, makes it more difficult for copyright owners to protect their works and to notify responsible parties of their infringement."
The studios launched theiragainst file-swappers earlier this week. However, any relationship with Internet2 would go beyond simply finding and cracking down on copyright offenses, the MPAA's Russell said.
Hollywood executives are interested in part in figuring out how file-swappers' behavior might change when extremely fast connections are available, he said. This could help studios guard against future piracy, as well as control today's swappers.
The trade association also is interested in testing new video technologies, although no specific projects are under way. The MPAA is already working with the Cooperation for Education Network Initiatives in California group, which is seeking gigabit-speed connections for California communities by 2010, Russell said.
Some projects are already under way on Internet2 that show promise of expanding the role of networked entertainment with this power available. Researchers at the University of Southern California have demonstrated a high-definition video connection with 10 separate surround-sound channels of audio,from Georgia to California, for example.