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It's Getting Tougher for Pirates

4 Oct, 2004 By: Kurt Indvik

It's getting rough out there for those who attempt to pirate and/or distribute copyrighted entertainment.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a sweeping copyright bill that, among other things, makes it a federal offense to videotape a film inside a theater, and will punish Internet users who distribute $1,000 or more in copyrighted material with three-year prison terms and $250,000 in fines.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned Induce Act, which would make illegal any technology or service that could induce someone to distribute and/or swap copyrighted material electronically, was set for an important congressional committee vote. Analysts said the bill hasn't much of a chance, as it needs to be more narrowly written before it gets broad legislative support. We'll have to wait and see.

Entertainment piracy is such a nebulous, shadowy sort of transaction that it's easy to see why surveys show that many of those who illegally download copyrighted entertainment don't really feel they're hurting anyone.

I went through this issue with my teenage daughter almost two years ago when she was downloading music files from a variety of peer-to-peer (P2P) sites.

I cannot remember when, but eventually she stopped downloading music as P2P sites kept going in and out of business. Recently, she had to have her hard drive de-fragmented after an attempt to delete the file-sharing program Kazaa crashed her system. There's some justice for you, I can hear music industry execs say.

Meanwhile, the Video Software Dealers Association has calculated that video retailers lose on average $11,000 a year in lost rentals and sales to piracy, and have come up with a plan to take the piracy battle to retail. It's making available to retailers Motion Picture Association of America posters and video trailers that make an appeal to parents to educate their kids that downloading copyrighted material is illegal.

There is no doubt that the movie/home entertainment business is aggressively attacking piracy on all fronts — deterrence measures, technical plans for the future such as “broadcast flag” requirements for digital TV broadcasts and more stringent protection being built into next-generation high-definition video discs.

Of course, for every technological lock, someone, somewhere usually manages to find its technological key. That's why some argue that the best defense is a good offense. If the entertainment industry can provide online services that offer more selection, better service and a reasonable price, then piracy fades away.

Movielink and others of its ilk — progressing slowly through the minefield of studio divisional profit motives and release windows — may eventually be as effective in putting the kibosh on the attraction to pervasive piracy as any legal or technology barrier the industry can put in place now and in the coming years.

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