MovieLabs to Fight Piracy

The Motion Picture Laboratories Inc. (aka MovieLabs) will begin operation later this year as a nonprofit consortium later this year. MovieLabs will have a budget of more than $30 million for its first two years according to Hollywood executives.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The idea arose out of Hollywood’s contention that the consumer electronics and information technology industries are not investing heavily or quickly enough in piracy-fighting technology.

Since 1988, CableLabs has spearheaded pivotal innovations in the cable television industry which quickened the adoption of fiber optics, cable modems, telephony and digital video. It is the CableLabs business model that MovieLabs wish to emulate. Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said, “Hollywood’s version will begin with a more modest mandate. It will focus principally on piracy prevention, though it will be given some flexibility to expand its mission later.”

“We’re not going to research how to make certain types of movies; that’s not what we’re talking about here. Our highest priority is protecting the integrity of our product.” Glickman stated. He had been pressed by the studio chairman to set up MovieLabs, an idea that had been on the drawing board for several years.

Thanks to the ways of delivering video to consumers proliferating at a rapid clip, MovieLabs will go into a broad range of study. Initial projects planned for MovieLabs include:

Ways to jam camcorders being used inside movie theaters, or to project movies with flickering images that are invisible to the eye but will appear on unauthorized video recordings.

Network management technologies to detect and block illegal file transfers on campus and business networks.

Traffic analysis tools to detect illegal content sharing on peer-to-peer networks.

Ways to prevent home and personal digital networks from being tapped into by unauthorized users, while not preventing consumers from sending a movie to more than one TV set without having to pay for it each time.

Ways to link senders and receivers of movies transmitted over the Internet to geographic and political territories, to monitor the distribution of movies and prevent the violation of license agreements.

Co-chairman of 20th Century Fox, whom led the studios in pushing for MovieLabs, James N. Gianopulos, said it would ideally fill in what he said were gaps in research on content protection left by consumer-electronics companies and Silicon Valley. That, in turn, would encourage Hollywood to embrace new ways of delivering movies to consumers – making those new vehicles more marketable.

“It allows us to develop more ways of getting creative content into the home, to mobile devices, theaters and so forth, without exposing us to more sources of theft,” he claimed. “The more comfort you have in the security of the content, the more able you are to expand the consumer’s access to it.”

Glickman said that consumer-electronics and information technology companies may not see “an immediate commercialization, but to us it’s important.”

Referring to the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, Dan Glickman continued, “We have different objectives here. That’s why the Pentagon set up Darpa, knowing that the companies wouldn’t do it on their own.”

Hollywood studios have teamed up on research and development before, most recently in the Digital Cinema Initiative, through which the major studios combined with the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California here to write uniform specifications for and test digital movie distribution technology.

Dick Green, President and chief executive of CableLabs, was studied closely by motion picture association executives. He said its approach to each technological problem or need was the same: reach an industry wide consensus on the direction to take, work with manufacturers to develop an approach, refine a set of specifications into an industry standard and help manufacturers develop and test prototypes.

Dick Green said, “We help in the lab and in testing, and as part of incubation. The minute it becomes a competitive product, we exit.”

Holleywood consortium will have its own chief executive who will report to the studio chairman, just like CableLabs. However, it will not be to the motion picture association Dan Glickman said.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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