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Copy Protection Tough To Standardize

12 Jul, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Copy protection is a fact of entertainment life now and going forward, but questions surround what form those copy protections will take, a panel of copy protection experts recently agreed.

Standardizing on one system is a daunting challenge, said Carol Flaherty, VP, video technology division at Macrovision, noting her company works with 61 chip makers, 250 replication facilities and 230 player manufacturers.

Alan Bell, SVP, technology at Warner Bros. Technical Operations, blamed “generalities and sound bites” for giving copy protection a bad name. Copy protection should prevent users from ripping multiple generations of copies without destroying consumer convenience, Bell said. He cited watermarking as a method that permits some copying.

“This notion that copy protection means that the word ‘copy' will disappear is false,” he said. “The only thing that will change is it will be more difficult to use deCSS [the de-scrambling program for the Content Security System on most DVDs].”

Fair Use is not a consumer right, he said, but a legal defense against copyright infringement allegations.

Copy protection is a moving target that makes manufacturing video recorders a balancing act for hardware manufacturers, said Andy Parsons, SVP, business solutions division at Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc.

“The Internet was not in many people's minds five or six years ago,” Parsons said, but future devices “will be like a VCR was 20 years ago.”

“We have to find a middle ground where we can protect the content providers' content, but also preserve the rights and abilities” to which consumers have become accustomed, he said, noting that CD technology went through a shakeout when it was first introduced 20 years ago.

Schemes that emerge as the technology develops will anger consumers unless they allow some copying and are backward-compatible with existing devices and discs, he and Flaherty agreed.“We don't want to see the disc and player prices go up,” Flaherty said.

Risking consumers' ire over incompatible hardware may be a necessary consequence of protecting studio content, Bell said.

“There's some limit when you buy a product in a world that keeps changing, to what you can expect it to do,” he said. “It would've been great if we'd had all this developed before the technology evolved.”

Video-on-demand (VOD) is part of the equation, panelists agreed.

“The VOD window is earlier than other windows, so content is more valuable,” Bell said.“When we sell pay-per-view that's transmitted to a million people, we have to charge a price that assumes copies will be made.”

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