Universal City Studios and Walt Disney Productions sued Sony to prevent it from selling its Betamax video recorder back in 1976 has the industry been more on fire about the rights of consumers to legally copy media in the home for their own use. At issue right now is whether the courts will focus on consumer behavior rather than the technological capabilities of the devices they use. Although the industry has been pointing to the Betamax case (the Supreme Court sided in favor of Sony) as a legal landmark decision that clearly said manufacturers were not liable if their devices were used in illegal copying.
The Grokster ruling, however, in 2005 sent a chill through the market as Supreme Court appeared to reverse this precedent by agreeing with content providers that peer-to-peer companies such as Grokster could be held responsible for copyright piracy on their networks. Moreover, multiple bills are now in progress in Congress that would further erode the rights of consumers to copy, move, or share media for their own personal use. This all stems from Hollywood who is deathly afraid of the possibilities that new technology has to offer consumers. And, is this fear going to dramatically impact new download services and companies like Apple in its ability to deliver the same experience in the living room that it has on the iPod?
Now, to throw a monkey wrench into everything is a new patent from ZapMedia has emerged. The patent covers content that has been acquired and licensed over the Internet, as well as content that may have been acquired or licensed and uploaded to a portal. The patent describes a distribution model for audio and video digital content, a combination of streaming media from any portal to many devices. Hollywood studios had tied themselves up in a Gordian knot of digital rights management issues, delaying the distribution of popular movies and television episodes via broadband downloads. This could certainly affect new services like MovieLink, CinemaNow, MovieBeam, Akimbo, iTunes, and others getting off the ground. Though broadband video downloads are in the early adopter phase, it has long been thought that consumer adaptation of the digital home might be come via the entertainment channel. But with new patents and Hollywood's concern about DRM issues, it may certainly affect the consumer's right to watch and record digital content.
What's the answer? We're not sure. When video content is presently downloaded, it takes about an hour or two for a movie that has poorer quality than a standard definition DVD to be placed onto a hard-drive. On top of that, you have to download the content to a Media PC-type device or a dedicated set-top box. Further, you have viewing restrictions after you've purchased the movie in which you have to watch the movie that has been downloaded within 24 hours of purchase, or it vanishes into thin air. And, with the additional legislation now in front of Congress, it could certainly limit consumer's right even more in their quest to enjoy audio and video content. DRM will not go away as Hollywood prefers the model of having the consumer pay each and every time that they listen or view content. What's next? Stay tuned.