Thinking that this implied a reluctance on their part to litigate, we then asked; Does the MPAA feel its legal actions, on behalf of its member companies, helps or deters transition P2P users to legal alternatives?
Garfield: “We think that it helps to move P2P users away from the illegitimate systems. When people understand that the risks and costs of engaging in this conduct are significant many of those people will stop. Not everyone does change their behavior and right now we are having the unintended effect of helping to move people from one illegal service to another. LimeWire has recently soared in popularity, because of the closure of other illegal P2P services. That is not lost on us. We are working on strategies to address that problem.
"Moreover, as we roll out more and more legitimate alternatives we will also have a greater impact. We also know that many people, not Slyck readers but others, don’t often recognize that downloading and posting movies via some P2P groups is illegal and some parents don’t know what kinds of things their kids are doing on line. It is our hope that these suits will raise community awareness to piracy and its consequences and I think our legal actions help to achieve that goal."
Given that few would support commercial piracy, and given the poor publicity over the use of DRM, how much of their problem is directly caused by commercial piracy?
Garfield: “We are studying that issue, but do not have a real answer. Identifying the scope of the commercial versus the open source problem is no easier than discerning real data on p2p usage. There are a number of companies that report various statistics, but it is not clear that any of those numbers are derived from anything more scientific than sticking a finger up in the wind.”
But the impact of Sony’s use of spyware/rootkit based DRM has affected its stock values and resulted in widespread rejection of DRM as a valid anti piracy measure. What is the MPAA’s position on this?
Garfield: “We are committed to making sure that the digital distribution of content is a reality. Doing that will require some assurances that content that is distributed digitally is not immediately re-distributed around the world in an indiscriminate way. We do not support the insertion of spyware into DRM technologies.
"One way to look at this issue is through an analogy. At present, when you purchase a car there is computer technology in the car that keeps track of your average speed, but that technology is accepted and is viewed as net value add. However, if that technology were to automatically report the fact that you speed to the authorities then people’s perspective would change. DRM is the same. The technology is a part of a balance that is struck with the consumer. The creative community distributes high quality digital content and the consumers accept that they can’t randomly and wantonly redistribute that high quality digital content. As a part of that bargain, we have to make sure that we do not take advantage of consumers and ensure that we continuously listen to their feedback.”
We felt it ironic that the MPAA were advocating education through litigation whilst at the same time referring to a compact (or “bargain”) between themselves and the viewing public. Given the high costs and abysmally low rate of recovery, we asked if they had a duty to give best value to the movie viewing public:
Garfield: “No doubt about it. The motion picture industry is focused on telling stories that enrich people’s lives. We want to tell stories about fantasmigorical pirates not spend much of our resources on fighting piracy. It should come as no surprise to you that every studio is committed to making movies and television shows that people love and are willing to see. Some times we are successful, but when we are it is not from a lack of trying. No one gets up in the morning and says today ‘I am going to make a really bad movie.’ ”
We then asked if their primarily concerns lay with the distribution of high quality copies or new and pre release films, and the affect this has on the secondary market (DVDs etc)?
Garfield: “Source piracy - - broadly defined - - is one of our principal concerns. We are working on creative ways to address camcording which is a huge source of pirated material. There are also a host of other issues that matter to us. Dealing with and educating people about P2P piracy, in the United States and around the world, is high on the list. We are also concerned with making sure we are (sic) understand and make use of the latest technological advances. Our work with Bram and Ashwin (Bram Cohen’s business partner) are a part of a larger effort to find ways to collaborate with innovative technologists. Our industries ultimate goal is to get product to people in the way they want it and as technology advances, we will work to make sure that happens while also working to protect the quality movies that people expect from our studios.”
But what of the alternatives to DRM, such as the emerging watermarking technology
that is now being adopted by TiVo/Microsoft, which gives a clear and relatively foolproof audit trail back to the original copy, would you be prepared (in principle) to endorse its use as a standardized counter piracy measure to your members?
Garfield: “We readily admit that we are not the oracle with answers to all quandaries. To the extent that there are new and viable technological solutions we are open to evaluating and discussing them. The type of watermarking technology that you described does have some problems because it creates an incentive for us to track down people and seek to take legal action against them. That is not the ideal position that we want to advance. We view technology as creating new options.”
Clearly to be effective, such a measure would entail a more controlled release situation, and that would entail a leap of faith by both sides of the equation. For instance, would the MPAA be prepared to relax its grip on file-sharers in return for a system such as this which will allow greater control over commercial piracy?
Garfield: “If Slyck’s recent reports about the number of people using public P2P systems is to be believed, we do not have much of a grip on the file-sharing world. That being said, we truly are open to new solutions. We cannot, however, close our eyes to the demand side of the problem. We are working to be responsive to the changing cultural expectations for the on-demand ubiquitous availability of content. At the same time, we are working to make sure that people respect the creativity and hard work that goes into making television shows and movies.”
Bearing in mind the gulf between the two sides, we then asked where the MPAA would like to see these discussions lead.
Garfield: “A big part of our goal is to gain a greater understanding of the cultural changes that we are witnessing. For example, we are still trying to learn more about what people want for entertainment, how do the want it, and how we strike a balance that is fair and gives people choice.”
Dean had said that there was a bargain to be struck between end users and the movie industry, but at the same time there is also a bargain to be struck with the greater general public. We asked, was there scope for further discussion, room for some future accommodation between the parties?
Garfield: “Absolutely. There is a lot that is uncertain about the world, but one thing is certain: we don’t have all the answers. We are open to listening and learning from others and welcome the opportunity to do just that.”
We are obviously extremely grateful to the MPAA for meeting us halfway and giving us this unique and quite frank insight into their way of thinking.
It isn’t easy to analyse all that has been said, as many answers can be read between the lines. Quite clearly the MPAA are monitoring the P2P community through Slyck and other sites, and are quite aware that many file-sharers are migrating to Limewire. Regarding Bit Torrent, the MPAA seem to regard Bram Cohen’s involvement more in terms of a resource, an approved source of distribution. They still seem to be hell bent on the counter productive issue of pursuing “education” through punishment, although they are inviting us to offer alternative ways of controlling distribution.
And perhaps that is a role that we should be pursuing. As the MPAA themselves acknowledge, they do not appear to have much of a grip on the file-sharing world. The sheer weight of numbers of people file-sharing continues to grow, the financial threats against file-sharers appears to be having little effect and the world of domestic file-sharing seems unfazed by the diminutive prospect of ending up in the courtroom. Yet what realistic alternative to litigation do they have?
In the course of the interview the issue of watermarking was discussed. This allows an audit trail leading back to the source of every copy that is made of media. Interestingly, Dean said that he wasn’t keen to adopt any system that would give them an incentive to track down people and seek to take legal action against them.
It is becoming clear to us that the advent of high definition material will present new opportunities to the movie industry, and that consumer demand is likely to result in such material becoming the primary market. VCR sales are diminishing as people expect higher quality, just as people will eventually come to regard DVD quality as being second rate.
The proposed introduction of ICT (Image Constraint Tokens) with blue-ray and HD-DVD formats as part of the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) offers a way forward, a means of limiting the quality of secondary copying. ICT
would enable a user to still see content, but not in its original resolution. This way, analogue displays and other unauthorized devices can still receive and play content, just not in a rich HD format. Reported originally as a bone of contention with the movie industry, it surely offers a workable compromise between freedom of the individual and a profitable and therefore active movie and tv industry.
Similar methodology could be apply equally to recorded music with, say, bit rates constrained to 128 kb/s for secondary copies, and far higher bit rates applicable to retail downloads. If watermarking technology was integrated, then perhaps software encryption/decryption may be preferable to the cost and effort of doing the same job in hardware.
As the MPAA claim to do so, we at Slyck keep an open mind as to the future. One thing for sure, with the growing acceptance of file-sharing and the numbers of users growing swiftly towards a critical mass, something is going to have to give under all this pressure. Having taken the initiative to propose future discussion, Slyck is in a unique position to influence what happens in the months and years ahead and pursue our goal of P2P for all.
Watch this space for developments.