MPAA chief searches for common ground

In his first public address on the increasingly controversial topic, Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Dan Glickman on Monday called on high-level leaders from the entertainment and technology industries to attend a meeting “akin to a trade negotiation” in order to find common ground on digital rights management technology.

At a Digital Rights Management Conference sponsored by LexisNexis and Variety, Glickman said conversations need to go beyond “lawyers and engineers” in order to alleviate problems with different DRM systems that don’t interoperate or confuse consumers with their limitations.

“The people who handle strategy have to get together to talk about this, not just the same technical people,” he told Daily Variety in a follow-up interview.

During his address, Glickman also for the first time made specific statements about DRM on behalf of all the MPAA’s member studios. Position came out of talks with studio chiefs and other top execs.

“Our goal is a diverse, high-quality, hassle-free consumer experience,” he said, “one that makes the most effective case possible not merely for the legitimate consumer marketplace, but its vast superiority (over piracy).”

Glickman also said the industry supports “managed copying,” a policy that allows users to take films off a DVD and watch it on a PC or portable device.

He said managed copying should launch in the HD-DVD format by the end of the year, and said the industry would also like to see it enabled for standard-def DVDs. Glickman admitted the latter development would take “a bit longer.” It would require an industrywide commitment to a new DRM standard for DVDs, which don’t enable copying.

That has been a bone of contention for digital-rights advocates, who argue that consumers should be allowed to make copies for personal use of movies they own.

Those in the biz, however, don’t want to allow any copying that they can’t control with DRM, as users might then make illegal copies for friends or put files on the Internet.

Some critics have questioned whether the movie industry should consider abandoning DRM, as music label EMI recently did in a groundbreaking deal with Apple.

However, on behalf of MPAA members, Glickman said, “We collectively affirm our ongoing support for digital rights management” and added that efforts at interoperability, including the proposed “trade negotiation,” are the right way to alleviate critics’ and consumers’ concerns.

“My philosophy is that we can make interoperability and DRM work if all parties truly want to make it work,” he said. “With this much brainpower at our disposal, it’s a question of collective will far more than technological capacity.”

True interoperability would take a huge level of cooperation among studios, consumer electronics manufacturers and the makers of DRM software such as Apple and Microsoft. Thus far, the industries’ diverging interests have prevented any such agreement, resulting in an array of downloadable content, DRM and devices that don’t work together.

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