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Copy Protection Balancing Act

11 Dec, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

Achieving a balance between a content owner's right for copyright protection and a consumer's right for fair use of entertainment legally acquired has created tension in the entertainment industry since the introduction of VHS.

Now, with the digital era in full swing and a growing array of PC, console and portable platforms on which to play entertainment, this tension is nearing a critical breakthrough point.

As senior reporter Jessica Wolf notes in her story on copy protection in this week's Home Media Retailing, even as Hollywood battles to keep the lid on copy control, Congress is beginning to recognize the shift in consumer consumption of entertainment away from the living room, and has legislation in play that would, among others things, allow consumers to circumvent copy protection technology without fear of prosecution, so long as it's done for their own use, and not for mass production or distribution infringement purposes.

Meanwhile, content providers keep looking for more sophisticated content protection technologies, forming think tanks like Movielabs to develop those while looking for some reasonable fair use digital rights management. AACS, the new content protection/DRM technology being deployed by next generation high definition disc formats has mandatory managed copy incorporated in it to be more user flexible in moving content around.

Part of the problem has always been Hollywood's fear of the digital environment's ability to turn any citizen with a PC and Internet access into a major distributor of its copyrighted material. Another has been the gigantic scale of packaged media piracy taking place in certain countries overseas that have hit the industry with losses estimated at several billion dollars per year.

But developments like Verance's audio watermarking, or Blu-ray Disc's ROM Mark or BD+ are just some examples where studios are looking to target their biggest piracy weaknesses and yet would still open up the potential for more fair use for the individual customer who simply wants to take the content they bought and move it from one platform to another for more convenient use.

I think 2006 will be a year in which we see a significant level of content portability achieved based on the combination of more targeted, effective content protection systems built with of more flexible consumer personal use rights. That is the best solution to squelching rampant piracy.

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