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Sony Pictures forms lobby group

The new lobbying organization will guide the company's migration to secure digital formats to distribute its stable of movies and entertainment products.

Sony Pictures Entertainment on Tuesday said it has formed a new lobbying organization as the company moves to adopt secure digital formats to distribute its stable of movies and entertainment products. The Digital Policy Group will be headed by Beth Berke, executive vice president of Sony Pictures. The lobbying group will represent the company in negotiations with legislators and regulators, review new technologies, and coordinate Sony Pictures' approach to digital technologies, both internally and with partners.

"The goal of the Digital Policy Group is to move forward with a triple win--for content, for hardware, and for viewers," Berke said in a statement.

Digital technology has raised vexing strategy issues for Sony Pictures parent Sony, which straddles both consumer electronics and media, two industries that have increasingly clashed with the arrival of potent new consumer devices that threaten copyrights.

Electronics manufacturers have embraced digital media as an opportunity to increase the value of their products and create whole new categories such as MP3 players, CD burners and PVRs (personal video recorders). Movie studios and record labels, meanwhile, have recoiled at the thought that large numbers of consumers may never have to pay for their products again.

Ground zero in this battle is the emerging field of digital rights management (DRM), technology that aims to prevent unauthorized use of copyrighted material.

Major technology companies including Microsoft, IBM and Hitachi are throwing weight behind DRM to make it an effective deterrent to piracy without detracting from the digital media experience from the point of view of consumers.

Sony recently expanded its presence in this field, acquiring assets from DRM provider InterTrust Technologies in a $453 million deal with Philips Electronics. The deal could give InterTrust a boost in a high-stakes patent dispute with Microsoft over DRM technology, a core feature in the software giant's Windows Media product line.

At the same time, a legislative battle has ensued as U.S. lawmakers and regulators--largely at the behest of the media industry--weigh proposals that would force hardware makers to include copy controls in their products. Such proposals could affect products ranging from computers to the Internet to digital television and PVRs, and could curtail popular features.

Such bills are opposed by technology providers, which generally support voluntary DRM but say government mandates could force them to adopt bad solutions.

The DRM field is still in its infancy, with notable failures to date. In 1999, programmers defeated the CSS (Content Scrambling System) copy protection standard used on most DVDs, sparking protracted legal battles to prevent online publication of the key, known as DeCSS. In addition, a music industry initiative to create a digital watermark standard suffered a major setback when its proposed technology was cracked by academics in the final testing phase.

A version of Microsoft's Windows Media DRM was also defeated last year.