Studios make proposal to 5C

The major Hollywood studios seem to be close to a consensus on copy protection. Five top studios have proposed a solution that would allow consumers to copy video programs in their homes while prohibiting digital material from being sent out over the Internet or elsewhere.

Walt Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Universal and MGM presented their proposal to the Digital Transmission Licensing Authority (also called 5C and DTLA) a week after Sony and Warner Bros. came to a similar agreement with the organization. The 5C group is composed of Hitachi, Toshiba, Sony, Intel and Matsushita Electric.

The proposal, not yet formally accepted, could pave the way for TV movies and digital shows and feature films to be distributed via satellite, cable and the Internet within two years. It goes further than the Sony/Warner agreement in that it includes digital watermarking technology that enables TV-content owners to protect against retransmission outside the home.

Unlike the Sony/Warner agreement, the five studios are looking to protect terrestrial digital broadcasting from the problems that the record companies have with distribution of unauthorized digital copies of content over the Internet.

"[Our proposal] is about protecting a distribution mechanism, not about content," says Andrew G. Setos, Fox Entertainment Group executive vice president. "We own TV stations, so it's in our interest to preserve that distribution platform."

Setos describes the technology in the proposal as a "belt-and-suspenders" approach. The studios, he says, are looking to develop an industry-standard label that recognizes a copyright and can be included in the Advanced Television Systems Committee's DTV standard. The inclusion of a digital watermark would prevent the broadcast content from being copied.

Once the proposal is finalized, a process that could take as long as a year, the DTLA must work with consumer electronics companies to integrate protection chips into digital products like set-top boxes and videotape and disk recorders.

Even with this proposal in play, there are still issues to be decided. For example, until a specific manufacturer's watermarking scheme is selected, consumer electronics manufacturers won't build encryption technology into their products. There are several under consideration, and Setos says that issue could take at least 18 months to resolve.

Despite the work still to be done, there is the belief that progress is being made. "After speaking with all of the various manufacturers," Setos says, "I feel confident that we might have something here."

The goal is to enable three levels of digital copyright protection. The lowest level restricts the content from retransmission outside the home (for example, the broadcast proposal). The second limits recording to one time only, and the third, reserved for DVD and pay-per-view, allows viewing without the ability to copy the content.