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File-Trading Activists, Content Providers Take Campaign to Consumers

24 Jul, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner


Amid legal wrangling that may go on for years, both sides of the entertainment downloading debate are appealing directly to consumers with their positions on the legal issues.

The music industry has focused on pelting Internet service providers (ISPs) with subpoenas demanding the names of suspected heavy traders in copyrighted files with a goal of suing those traders for damages. Last week, the movie industry took a different tack, launching a campaign to educate consumers before video downloading becomes a feeding frenzy comparable to the one that has picked the bones of music labels.

Although experts agree that movie studios have a few years left before digital compression technology and broadband household penetration bring movie files up to the quality of digital music files, they have taken several steps to head off the kind of free-for-all that has bled billions from the recorded music industry during the past decade.

The studios launched authorized movie download service Movielink in November of last year. Although Movielink spokespersons will not disclose the number of subscribers, industry observers say both user rates and customer churn are low.

Many of the major studios have also licensed their titles to other Internet video-on-demand (VOD) sites, including CinemaNow.com.

Visitors to the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) new respectcopyrights.org site can click a “download” tab and get links to those sites as well as MovieFlix.com, which boasts 1 million subscribers, and ifilm.com. The site also offers links to rights-holder–authorized music and game sites. A tab marked “Buy or Rent” offers links to four online rental sites: Netflix, CafeDVD, DVDAvenue and Walmart.com, as well as the sites for brick-and-mortar rental chain Blockbuster Video, e-tailers Amazon.com and Buy.com and brick-and-click sellthrough channels Best Buy, Tower Records and Sam Goody.

The respectcopyrights site also offers streams of the ads the MPAA started screening in theaters last week, which feature craftsfolk from the film industry explaining how movie piracy threatens their jobs.

On related fronts, Buy.com launched a music download site, BuyMusic.com, the same day that the MPAA launched its education campaign.

Although a half-dozen brick-and- mortar music retailers formed a consortium called Echo to offer music downloads to their customers, Buy.com -- a pure-play e-tailer that is not part of Echo -- beat the consortium to the punch. But, as with other music download offerings, it may have trouble reforming pirate file traders, not only because of the music costs, but because only visitors using Microsoft's Internet Explorer can buy from the site. The browser unlocks the digital rights management technology that prevents unauthorized distribution of files.

Meanwhile, the watchdog group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is working to reduce the stigma of, and penalties on, some downloading activities.

The group recently launched a “Let the Music Play” campaign aimed at finding ways to permit file trading while still paying artists. EFF backs business models that could include a surcharge on computers or file-trading software, ad revenue-sharing on content sites or radio-style licensing schemes.

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