The agreement underscores the tension within the entertainment industry, which embraces and fears the digital living room. While new products such as digital video recorders and DVDs have sparked consumer demand, the digital transmission of movies raises fears of piracy and illegal dissemination of works.
In response, Sony Pictures Entertainment and AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. movie studios Tuesday agreed to license the Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP) system. DTCP is a standard that prevents people from intercepting and re-broadcasting movies delivered digitally to home viewers.
"Warner Bros. and Sony are participants because we recognize the implications in protecting artists and intellectual property rights," a spokeswoman for Sony Pictures Entertainment said.
In the case of the DTCP, the standard would imbed an authentication and encryption system within devices to prevent works from being pirated. For example, a movie sent digitally though cable would be encrypted en route to a transfer onto a digital recording device.
The system would prohibit some programs from being copied, such as a pay-per-view event. Other programs, such as paid cable programming, would be limited in the number of copies.
Furthermore, the studios said the use of DTCP will offer a way for consumers to set up home networks of digital entertainment devices. One of the entertainment industry's fears has been the illegal sale and distribution of works copied digitally and then disseminated via the Internet.
When the program "is received in your home on a digital set-top or cable box, it then enters the DTCP domain," said Michael Ayers, president of the Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator, an organization created by electronics manufacturers Sony, Hitachi, Intel, Matsushita and Toshiba.
While the DTCP is a step toward protecting digital programs, there are still gaps in the overall picture. DTCP does not have a way to encrypt digital programs broadcast through airwaves for free. Meanwhile, many influential entertainment companies such as Disney and Viacom have not joined.
"There are only major producers of content, which is far from overwhelming support," Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research, said about the DTCP. "It's a step towards taking control of content in the digital age, but not enough of a step to make much of a difference yet."