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Feeling the pinch

Tech and legal countermeasures can't fully protect biz from piracy

How bad is the piracy problem? Bad enough that Motion Picture Assn. of America CEO-president Dan Glickman has declared it Hollywood enemy No. 1 — costing the industry an estimated $3.5 billion in revenues every year.

It’s a serious enough issue that some filmmakers are experimenting with simultaneous DVD and online releases that would eliminate exhibs’ exclusive theatrical window. And it’s enough of a problem that high-tech wizards are working to defeat the prime weapon of theater-lurking pirates: the camcorder.

The threat of piracy poses a serious threat to exhibs, and Glickman and National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian will use their keynote address at ShowEast to discuss how the business can protect itself in the digital world.

The law has helped to some extent. Last summer’s Supreme Court decision ruling that peer-to-peer software companies could be held liable for their users’ copyright violations has prompted some P2P sites to rethink their operations. State and federal law enforcement agencies have task forces dedicated to hunting down pirates.

But as Les Moore, chief technology officer for Kodak Digital Cinema, says, “This is a commercial problem and it will have to be addressed by commercial solutions.”

Kodak and other companies have been working on antipiracy technology aimed at the camcorder, “the primary culprit,” Moore says. An omnibus bill of copyright laws that the MPAA helped shepherd through Congress earlier this year has made it a federal crime to record a movie with a camcorder. But catching people in the act isn’t so easy.

Thus, the antipiracy industry’s attempts at developing technologies that can transmit light at waves invisible to the human eye but that will blur or distort the image a camcorder is recording. It’s also pursuing a system that can simply detect the presence of a camcorder in a darkened theater.

The window between theatrical and DVD releases has been shrinking because of piracy. High-def producer Mark Cuban and director Steven Soderbergh have collaborated on an all-in-one release date project, in large part to thwart pirates. But exhibs don’t like it.

“I spent 27 years in exhibition,” says William Doeren, former general manager of Kodak Digital Cinema. “The industry always prospered on the premise that the theatrical release established the profitability of the ancillary market. I really don’t see support for all-in-one releases from theater owners.”

The time-consuming nature of fighting piracy is among the main reasons Glickman and the MPAA recently brought in Bob Pisano as the org’s No. 2. Glickman remains CEO while Pisano, based in Los Angeles, has assumed the title of chief operating officer. Move was prompted by Glickman’s duties in Washington becomingly increasingly demanding and those duties almost exclusively involve antipiracy efforts.

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