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Studios want short chain on digital leash.

WASHINGTON Do not adjust your set. For the next hour, we will control everything you see and hear ...

The introduction to an old TV show? Yes, but also a peek into the future of the home movie-watching experience, if the Hollywood studios have anything to say about it.

On Nov. 29, the very day that Hollywood was abuzz with press reports of studio plans for delivering movies over the Internet, studio representatives in Washington were appearing before the U.S. Copyright Office to urge regulators not to loosen the studios' control over what downloaders can do with movies once they have them.

If they get their way, the studios will take a big step toward an eventual replacement for the fading video-rental biz, with little risk of the sort of freelance digital piracy currently plaguing the music industry. But they face stiff opposition from consumer and retail groups who accuse the studios of wanting to continue to control access to a movie even after someone has legally downloaded it.

They also accuse the studios of wanting to cut out middlemen like vidtailers and video-on-demand operators.

As evidence, they cite "end-user agreements" already in place from some music labels (generally part of the same entertainment congloms as the studios) that purport to limit what people can do with music they copy legally from the Internet.

The hearing was held in connection with a report the Copyright Office is scheduled to submit to Congress at the end of February on the legal status of digital downloads.

Two paths by studios

While all the studios have been looking at ways to deliver movies over the Internet, two camps appear to be emerging: Sony and Warner are reportedly in talks to deliver movies via download, while Fox, Disney and Paramount are leaning toward technology for streaming movies over the Web in real time.

And later this month, Enron and vidtailer Blockbuster are slated to begin a four-city test of a download system using movies licensed by Blockbuster from MGM.

But the studios want to make sure that people who download pics can't pass them on to friends in the same way that Napster and other file-sharing technologies enable them to pass around music files.

To prevent that possibility, they want to encrypt movies so that they will only play back on the computer they're downloaded to, and even then, only for a limited time -- unless the consumer pays even more. And they want to make sure it remains illegal for computer users to circumvent that encryption.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it's illegal to circumvent encryption systems used to control access to copyright works.

First-sale precedent

The catch is that, under the first-sale doctrine of current copyright law, the copyright owner doesn't normally get to control how someone uses a copy of a work they buy. Someone who buys a DVD or VHS copy of a movie is free to pass that copy on to a friend or, in the case of vidtailers, to rent it without getting permission from the copyright owner.

Consumer and retailer groups argue that the same principle ought to apply to copies made on computer hard drives as a result of downloads.

While the studios conceded last week that the first-sale doctrine applies to digital copies in principle, they argue that a new law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, nonetheless lets them encrypt movies to control what users do with them. That control is necessary, they say, to prevent "Napsterization."

Rep. Richard Boucher (D-VA) introduced a bill in September that would permit users to pass on copies of what they download, provided they delete their own copy at the same time. That bill died in committee, but both retailer and consumer groups last week urged the Copyright Office to press Congress to reconsider it next year.
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Title Annotation:film studios fight for rights to downloaded digital videos
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 4, 2000
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