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Digital Media Issues Debated at EMX Confab

1 Sep, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

The annual Entertainment Media Expo (EMX) kicked off this week in Los Angeles with a keynote session debating the issue of “fair use” vs. content protection.

Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford and author of the book Free Culture, showed the EMX audience clips of “Anime Music Videos” — scenes of anime cartoons spliced together by creative fans to create funky music videos set to popular songs — as a colorful example.

Lessig called for courts and copyright holders to better define “fair use” and balance creative expression with copyright control when it comes to emerging technologies.

“My plea is that we recognize the need to dial back the mentality of control,” Lessig said. “Copyright laws have and should be used to promote the progress of a market, not protect the profits of a small and declining cartel.”

Given a chance to rebut Professor Lessig, George Borowski, an attorney with Mitchell, Silberling and Knuff, hailed the Supreme Court's recent decision against file-sharing service Grokster.

Technology like Grokster's peer-to-peer (P2P) file trading should not get a free pass simply because it can ostensibly be used for good, Borowski said. The facts are that it is being used for illegal copying and distribution 90 percent of the time, he said.

Lessig returned to the podium to point out that part of the rationale used in the case against Grokster — that 90 percent of P2P use is illegal — is the exact same illegal-copying percentage that Hollywood studios cited in the historic Sony Betamax case, when fighting that technology. But in the end, as in every other copyright issue in the history of the market, the technology won out and was allowed to continue, Lessig noted.

P2P fights aside, Hollywood is increasingly embracing Internet technology as a way to get the message out to fans about movies as they hit theaters and home video, according to speakers at the “Hollywood Online: DVD and the Internet” panel later in the day.

J.D. Black of Sony Pictures Digital said that some Internet marketing even swings toward Professor Lessig's idea of copyright use.

For the first Resident Evil movie, Sony provided artwork and assets for fans to create a sales sheet in a contest, he said. The company also has dabbled in contests for fans to create key art for DVD box covers.

“We want to reach out to the fans and allow them to participate, because they're going to anyway,” Black said.

EMX presenters and panels also offered updated data on the progress of PlayStation Portable's (PSP) Universal Media Disc (UMD).

Bob Hurley from disc manufacturer Sony DADC said PSP's installed base in the United States will reach 5 million units by the end of the year and increase to 30 million by 2008, citing data from Understanding & Solutions.

So far, UMD games are narrowly outselling movies and other programming, 52 percent to 48 percent, Hurley said. More than 9 million games and 8 million other UMDs have been sold to consumers, according to Sony research.

About 4 million of those games sold at the time of the hardware's launch; since then, sales have shifted to non-game software, which account for 60 percent of sales.

The company expects that percentage to swing back toward game software as game publishers launch more PSP games in the fourth quarter.

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