Hackford blames Google for enabling piracy

Entertainment Content Protection summit explores biz solutions

At the first-ever Entertainment Content Protection Summit, keynote speaker Taylor Hackford called piracy “the most threatening issue that has hit our industry in its entire history” and labeled Google an “enabler” of illegal downloading.

Hackford, prexy of the Directors Guild of America, spoke vehemently about the need to stop piracy, and said that starts with stopping use of the word. The word “pirate” is “too romantic,” Hackford said. “Johnny Depp has made it too wonderful. They’re thieves — Internet thieves.”

He warned that losses of the sort the music industry has experienced are in store for the movie biz and said that those in film don’t take the threat seriously enough. “Our industry doesn’t get it,” he said. “If we don’t do something about digital theft, we won’t be in business.”

Offering up some numbers, Hackford said the U.S. loses $25 billion annually to piracy, and that’s having a “devastating effect” on the economy.

“The entertainment business is the second largest exporter the U.S. has,” he said. “If we give that away, what are we going to sell?”

He noted examples such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which Hackford claimed was downloaded illegally 11 million times but legally only 50,000 times.

In addition, Hackford said the business of illegal downloading is growing at alarming rates, and he partly blames Google. “Google is making money through (its) search engine with these sites,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to say (to Google), ‘You are facilitating illegal activity.'”

Last week, Google announced that it was taking steps to speed up response times to takedown notices and limit search to pirate sites. Its plan drew cautious words of praise from some industry groups, and Hackford noted that it also came the day before Viacom filed its appeal brief in its copyright infringement suit against Google and YouTube.

Hackford said the cause is not hopeless but that nothing can be done without outreach to Washington. “We have raised a generation that feels everything should be free,” Hackford said. “No business model we create can compete with free. If you’re on the street selling dope, there are laws against that and penalties.”

The Content Protection Summit was produced by the Content Storage and Delivery Assn. and Variety.

The gathering drew studio information technology execs and security experts, among others, with the goal of sharing methods and concerns related to piracy.

“Piracy is demand driven,” said Richard Atkinson, conference chair and host. “The good news is people want your stuff. Free is part of it, but many motivations are also about timing and platforms.”

Panelists discussed specific programs and techniques their companies are using for content security, such as watermarking, and overarching themes developed: a need for industry communication and collaboration as well as an attempt to satisfy consumers’ desires for instant gratification and easy access.

“We’re terrible — all of us are terrible — about sharing information,” said Kaye Cooper-Mead, exec VP of worldwide distribution services at Summit Entertainment. “It’s like piracy is a dirty little secret, and it isn’t.”

Spencer Mott, chief information security officer for Electronic Arts, said the industry needs to stop holding forums about the problem and start coming up with standards, and fast.

“As an industry we need to work together and come up with some basic principles of what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “I don’t think we need sessions for the next five years. There isn’t the time for that now.”

Mott also said it’s important to get the next generation involved: “I’d like to see people half my age fighting this battle — ones not wearing suits,” he said.

As for satisfying consumers, Brad Hunt, president of Digital Media Directions, said the future lies in different delivery platforms. “Fifteen years ago it made sense to use content protection to lock a movie to a shiny plastic disc,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense now when consumers want to play this on multiple devices. Consumers don’t want to buy a movie twice.”

Jan Steenkamp, VP Americas for Irdeto, pointed out that ease of accessibility is also important. “The way the consumer consumes must be in one click,” he said. “We have to make very easy, simple ways to access content.”

Steve Weinstein, president and CEO of MovieLabs, said: “I think we’ve realized that all pirates don’t want to be pirates. They want access to content. And we constantly teach everybody that they want things and they want them right now.”

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