New Broadband Ecosystem – With Content Protection – Offers Better Future for Entertainment Industry

Broadband's Impact October 8th, 2008

, Reporter, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, October 8 – The “broadband ecosystem” of the future needs strong legal, technological and cultural efforts to protect American intellectual property, a group of entertainment and technology executives said Wednesday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Fifth Intellectual Property Summit.

Although the panelists also spoke about the importance of preserving users’ right to make “fair use” of copyrighted material, they emphasized the importance of technological protection measures.

“We know the story” on the history of the music industry, said Mark McKinnon of Arts+Labs, a coalition of technology and entertainment companies that develops content delivery and protection systems.

McKinnon compared the music industry’s negative experience with Napster file-sharing service with the success of commercial video sharing site Hulu. McKinnon said Hulu accounts for 90% of commercial television being viewed online. “The models are finally being figured out.” In the future, consumers would respond positively to online content that is affordable, legal, and safe, said McKinnon.

There is “no question” that old business models need to change in a networked world, said Rick Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel for NBC Universal. Embracing digital distribution will “drive the future,” Cotton said. “It’s what consumers want.”

New content protection technology brings the promise of a “mature model” of internet distribution that avoids “the dark side” of peer-to-peer technology, said Cotton. The broadband ecosystem envisioned by Cotton would somehow tell people that they can access programming as they please, but also send a message that stealing is not acceptable. Such an ecosystem must be built cooperatively, balancing ease of access, consumer desires and a choice of ad-based or fee-based models.

Putting content-style restrictions on technology can be an “enormously powerful teacher” that can teach people on a “speed bump basis,” Cotton said. Without such technological measures, Cotton said, young people could grow up believing that “if [downloading pirated content] is easy, it can’t be wrong.”

Referring to the success of Hulu and NBC’s Olympic video streaming, Cotton said that a broadband-based model would be successful if there are clear “rules of the road,” and as long as consumers could easily access legal content.

Content protection has a critical role to play in the future, said Rick Lane, senior vice president of government affairs at News Corporation. Protection mechanisms have to allow some control for content owners, while leaving room for new and innovative business models, he said. Without content protection mechanisms, Lane predicted that online content would be reduced to the model of a DVD purchase.

More consumer education would cut down on “Net Pollution,” McKinnon said, suggesting educational campaigns to link pirated content with malware and viruses.

The ecosystem would have some room for fair use, Cotton said. Content protection is not about facilitating mashups, he emphasized. Rather, technological restrictions must focus on whole episodes, skits, and movies, he said.

“Fair use should not be a code word for doing nothing,” Cotton proclaimed, adding that technology should send cues about what is right.

Lane and McKinnon agreed that consumer convenience is paramount in any content protection scheme and should be “seamless,” Lane said. McKinnon predicted that with the rise of broadband and good content protection, it would not be long before “DVD’s are like 8-tracks.”

Fair use is not incompatible with content protection, Lane said. Content protection technology is a “key component” of the future broadband economy, and mechanisms could be devised to protect fair use as well as copyrights. Lane cited News Corp.’s MySpace Music as an example. He said that MySpace had received “zero complaints” about its content protections restricting fair use.

Lane said the idea that News Corporation is against fair use was “ridiculous.” Cotton said that fair use and privacy are too often used as “scare tactics,” and said people need to “get past the name calling” when it comes to examining content protection mechanisms. “Trying to create fear doesn’t help the dialogue,” he said.

Cotton said later in an interview that improving technology will make piracy more difficult, but consumer rights and fair use will be protected with “reasonable accommodations” built into copy protection technology. The “vast majority of people” will be satisfied by such accommodations, while fulfilling the goal of cleaning up the “wild west” of today’s internet, he said.

In an interview, David Sohn of the Center for Democracy and Technology took issue with Cotton’s characterization of fair use as a “code word” for anything. Content protection systems can’t distinguish fair use from copyright infringement, Sohn said. Instead, he called fair use an “important policy consideration” that is not only enshrined in law, but is also a “safety valve” so that copyright law doesn’t violate the First Amendment.

Sohn said he hoped the future will include a “broad range” of options available to consumers. Such options should be in response to consumer demand for content models that meet their needs. Market pressures simply won’t allow content to be completely locked down, he said.

Broadband Breakfast Club Forum on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss “10 Years Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – Success or Failure?”, on Tuesday, October 14, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Old Ebbitt Grill, 675 15th Street NW, Washington.

This event, the kick-off event in the monthly “Broadband Breakfast Club” hosted by BroadbandCensus.com, is designed to bring several key stakeholders together to share perspectives on this topic:

  • Drew Clark, Executive Director, BroadbandCensus.com (Moderator)
  • Mitch Glazier, Senior Vice President, Government Relations, Recording Industry Association of America
  • Michael Petricone, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Consumer Electronics Association
  • Wendy Seltzer, Practitioner in Residence, Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic, American University Washington College of Law
  • Emery Simon, Counselor, Business Software Alliance

Breakfast for registrants will be available beginning at 8:00 a.m., and the forum itself will begin at around 8:30 a.m., and conclude promptly at 10 a.m. Seated attendance is limited to the first 45 individuals to register for the event. For more information, visit http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com

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