This week a panel on movie piracy featuring heavyweights from Hollywood and Silicon Valley took on a much different tone than it would have last year when we were in the midst of the rancorous debate over SOPA and PIPA legislation. Instead of threats from both sides, opening statements from Sony and Warner Brothers sounded a conciliatory note, agreeing in principal with the message from fellow panelists representing Google and BitTorrent that market-based solutions were the best way to solve the piracy problem. As the evening wore on, though, gloves started to come off, with the studios falling back on pleas for greater legal tools and the tech companies urging more of a free market approach for content distribution.
Hollywood meets Silicon Valley
The panel, technically titled “Legal and Illegal Distribution over the Internet: Can We Find Common Solution(s)?,” was part of the first ever “summit” between Hollywood heavyweights recruited by co-sponsor SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) and tech industry executives brought to the table by Stanford’s SCIEN (Stanford Center for Image Engineering) program. Called Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age (ETIA), its goal was to build bridges between the technologists making the new paradigm of internet-distributed content possible and the content providers fueling its growth.
The conference’s marquee event was the “piracy panel.” Featuring Mitch Singer, Chief Digital Strategy Officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Chris Odgers, VP of Technology at Warner Brothers, Fred Von Lohmann, Legal Director at Google, Steven Balogh, Policy Specialist for Intel, Steve Weinstein, CTO at Deluxe Entertainment, and BitTorrent CEO Eric Klinker, the panel aimed to find common ground between the warp-speed evolution of technology on the internet and Hollywood’s slowly evolving business models. The panelists quickly adopted the metaphor of “carrots and sticks” to describe how to motivate consumers to legally purchase content — or at least to stop pirating it.
Initially there was broad agreement that market-based solutions were preferable, and that existing laws were fine with the big exception of enforcement. As the evening wore on, that consensus started to break down, but where things got really interesting is when the discussion got around to the specifics of exactly what kind of carrots and sticks were needed. Hollywood’s carrots seemed mostly to consist of its Ultraviolet effort, while Google and BitTorrent clearly supported opening the floodgates as much as possible to new, online channels of distributing content.
Moderator Jim Burger, a prominent IP attorney, pointed out that while the music industry won a lot of battles in court, that wasn’t what helped them deal with piracy — it was the availability of inexpensive subscription music services.
Next page: The studios and Ultraviolet