Hollywood Launches Legal Digital Copying of DVD Movies

Wuthrich echoes those sentiments, noting that Warner's own research shows that consumers want a copy of their movies for use on a PC. "These digital options are to provide choice. We're doing it because it adds value to the DVD itself," says Wuthrich. "It's a legitimate way for people who'd like a digital copy of the film to get it."

Like Kaye, Wuthrich is looking ahead to expanding the digital copying program. "This is the first step of many. We intend to add this capability to more products going forward," he promises. "Consumers are interested in digital files; we need to find ways for them to enjoy those files in a legitimate manner."

Unfortunately, the efforts still fall short of offering the freedom that most consumers want once they've purchased content. In being limited to just one PC transfer and one portable transfer, consumers might still feel boxed in.

"None of these restrictions actually do anything to stop piracy," notes Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann. "They only hurt consumers who are trying to do the right thing. These efforts to lock you in to one computer or one PlaysForSure device won't stop people from downloading the movie; they will only restrict people who've ponied up money for the DVD."

In an era when software packages like HandBrake and DVD Shrink make breaking the copy protection on DVDs reasonably easy, and when sites like The Pirates Bay facilitate finding BitTorrent versions of films, it's easy to dismiss these early studio efforts as inconsequential and irrelevant.

Not so fast: Industry experts agree it's a good thing that the studios are at least acknowledging what consumers want to do.

"It's exciting that the content community is listening to consumers and their desire to have control of their content," says Megan Pollock, spokesperson for the Consumer Electronics Association. "Consumers want to be able to do what they want with content they've legally and lawfully acquired."

By taking these steps, adds Ross Crupnick, an analyst at NPD: Entertainment, the studios are offering consumers a legal way to obtain a digital copy. "You have the potential to take a little bite out of the need for them to use unauthorized means to digitize video."

For this concept of studio-provided digital copies to be successful, Hollywood will have to concede that flexibility is king. One-time transfer rights to one device won't cut it: The DRM scheme--assuming that DRM persists at all (the music industry, for its part, is starting to embrace DRM-free business models)--must account for the fact that consumers might have multiple devices they'd like their content stored on simultaneously, or that they might want to move the content from one device to another. Hollywood will also have to broaden access to these files to support devices beyond the Windows DRM world.

There's no question that Live Free or Die Hard and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix represent a major shift. Let's hope these initiatives represent the start of a trend.

"This is certainly a step in the right direction. We just hope that the studios continue down this road: They're making moving content easier," says CEA's Pollock. "It will be good for consumers if the movie and music industries listen to and understand consumers' demands--and if they understand that we're in a digital and portable world and that's how consumers want to enjoy their content."

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