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Film Piracy Already a Problem on Web

5 Jul, 2001 By: David Ward

Studios must come up with a universally accepted Digital Rights Management solution or the film industry will face the same piracy potential thatNapster brought upon record companies, experts attending Streaming Media West in Long Beach, Calif., said recently.

Andrew Frank, technology officer for Viant, an Internet consulting company,told a panel audience that while most media attention has focused on the sharing of music files, between 300,000 and 500,000 feature length films are illegally traded on the Internet, some before they’ve even made theirtheatrical debut.

While no one claims these films are of VHS — let alone DVD — quality, the fact that they’re free poses a Napster-like threat to the movie industry, Frank said.

Scott Dinsdale, executive v.p, digital strategy for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), hinted that Viant’s numbers overstate theproblem.

“We’re trying to triangulate a little bit to get an idea of what the numbers really are.” But he quickly added, “While it may it a bitoverstated, yes there are some major concerns.”

The MPAA learned some lessons from the Recording Industry Association America (RIAA) battle with peer-to-peer music file sharing, Dinsdale added, including the fact that consumer education campaigns equating file sharing with theft don’t necessarily work.

“It’s difficult and incredibly expensive to send a message to consumers,” he said, adding the best strategy may be to offer service, convenience andquality content at a reasonable price to discourage piracy.

Streaming Media West also provided clear evidence that the first Internet evolution is almost complete — most of the early startup companies have either gone out of business or been acquired. Now the major media companies like Disney, Sony, Bertelsmann and Microsoft are urging patience as they work to move online entertainment forward.

In an inspirational keynote address, Dick Glover, executive v.p. of Walt Disney Internet Group, reminded conference attendees that the cable television industry went through a remarkably similar struggle during theearly 1980s before blossoming into a hugely profitable business. Glover recounted his experience at the Westinghouse-backed Group W two decades ago, noting that company gave up on not only the CNN competitor Satellite News Channel, but also passed on the opportunity to buy ESPN and the regional networks that eventually became Fox Sports.

“They were proven wrong just as companies today who have given up on the Internet will be proven wrong,” he said. “The experience shows in clear and tangible terms not to throw out good ideas with the bad.”

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