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Tuesday, July 06, 2004
Going to battle with movie downloading

Industry fears the growing speed, ease with which pirates swap films online like music files

When they say "fast," they mean very, very fast.

Researchers last month reported that they had set a world speed record for sending data across the Internet. Using off-the-shelf hardware and standard connections, the group said it had shipped about 840 gigabytes of data halfway around the world in a mere 27 minutes.

That's more than 30 gigabytes per minute - plenty fast enough to download a Hollywood movie in a few seconds.

This may sound exciting to you. But it is scaring movie studios more surely than any horror flick ever filmed.

Signs of terror are growing this summer. Last week, The Hollywood Reporter reported that a Web site targeting left-wing gadfly Michael Moore had posted a link to an illegal download of Moore's anti-Bush documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The industry publication quoted Eric Garland, founder and chief executive officer of online media-measurement firm, as saying that downloadable copies of the controversial movie began turning up online in earnest during its first weekend in theaters. Garland told the Reporter that the copies were "quite good-quality in the estimation of people who track these things," shot using a camcorder in a movie theater.

Last week, on its first day in theaters, "Spider-Man 2" also was bitten by a camcorder-wielding patron. In Los Angeles, police arrested a 16-year-old who was using a camcorder to make an illegal copy of the movie; the teenager was spotted by the theater's projectionist, who was using night-vision goggles to spot prospective video pirates.

Such measures are on the increase. The reason: The movie industry is deathly afraid of facing what happened to the music industry, which has been shaken to its foundations by the speed and ease with which consumers can trade songs online.

To be sure, movie studios have a bit of a head start on their music-industry counterparts.

For one thing, DVD burners remain relatively rare, though their popularity is growing. For another thing, most DVDs are copy-protected, meaning they can't be turned into downloadable files as easily as songs "ripped" from audio CDs.

Finally, despite the speed record set by the Internet researchers, most consumers are limited by the speed of their DSL or cable Internet connections. That makes downloading a full-length movie considerably more time-consuming than a few seconds.

Even so, the broad outlines of the trend are clear: faster connections, faster computers, more DVD burners. In five years, people could be swapping movies and TV programs every bit as easily as they now trade songs.

Already, according to one estimate, 400,000 to 600,000 films a day are being downloaded.

Even before the Internet speed record was announced, the Motion Picture Association of America said it was launching an anti-piracy campaign aimed at building on what it described as "extensive existing efforts to raise public awareness about illegal file swapping."

The campaign is set to include advertising in newspapers, magazines and more than 100 college newspapers. Special messages also will be shown in movie theaters to drive home the industry's point that downloading movies online is illegal and that movies are worth paying for.

From JS Online

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