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Studios Deal With DTV Manufacturers For Control of Copy ProtectionDeal Seen as Groundbreaker for DTV Acceptance
Sony and Warner Brothers are expected to open their huge libraries of digital content to five major electronics makers in exchange for copy protection control. Covering only content carried over cable TV outlets, the deal represents a departure from the five other major studios, who want to also control copying of broadcast content. Even so, industry insiders think the deal could finally provide stimulus to the United States' halfhearted DTV transition.
In July, 2001 Warner Brothers and Sony signed a deal with Hitachi, Intel, Matsushita, Sony Electronics and Toshiba, where the electronics companies' devices will allow the two studios to dictate whether their content can be copied, and if so, how many times. All seven major studios have been in grueling negotiations with those manufacturers, whose contention has been that building DTV gear is pointless if there is no topflight content that can be displayed.
"Our agreements with Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures mark a watershed event in the transition to the all-digital home entertainment," said Michael Ayers, president of the Digital Transmission Licensing Administration. Other major studio heads are expected to hammer out a different licensing plan, but some analysts say those studios could eventually join in on the Warner Brothers and Sony deal.
"The difference among the studios reflects differing opinions as to how copy protection should be approached," one industry exec said. Studio executives from Fox and Disney want copy protection to extend to broadcast content, but consumer groups counter that notion by citing the U. S. Supreme Court ruling in the early '80s allowing broadcast content to be videotaped for personal use.
The broadcast copy protection proponents fear that if broadcast content is easily copied, content creators will confine their licensing deals only to cable outlets. Since cable operators have so far been reluctant to sacrifice the bandwidth necessary for high definition TV, this is seen as a policy that might discourage HDTV acceptance in the mass market. But Disney and Fox say the Supreme Court decision was made in a different era, when perfect copies of broadcast digital content weren't possible.
The agreement between Warner, Sony and the electronics makers sets in motion encryption schemes where DTV sets and set-top boxes communicate, notifying each other of copy restrictions set by the studios.
Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past seven years, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor and shot-calling PBS TV director with 26 years broadcast experience. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at [email protected].
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