Mine! Mine! It's all mine! Music. Movies. Pictures." That's the phrase that Scour.com, an Internet search engine that brings users straight to the multimedia file they're looking to copy, uses to describe its service. It's also the type of phrase that has copyright owners around the world saying "No, it isn't."
The battle between those who own copyrighted music, movies and television content and the Internet tools and sites that make it possible for users to distribute digital copies of music, films and video has heated up in recent weeks. Scour.com has been the target of a lawsuit, and Napster, the infamous but wildly popular file-sharing service, is entangled in a lawsuit that will determine its future.
Most of the current wrangling involves the distribution of digital copies of copyrighted music performances, but distribution of movies and television content isn't far behind. Jeff Morris, CEO of Yack.com, an Internet program guide, says he's surprised the video industry hasn't experienced the problems the audio industry has but cites one reason Internet audio is outpacing Internet video: "Video quality is simply not there until you get to broadband connectivity, and we obviously have some miles to go before it gets there in a ubiquitous fashion. When it does," he says, "video will be a legitimate content experience via the Web."
"If the video industry doesn't think that they face a similar problem, then I think they're being short-sighted," says Dave Goodman, CEO of Lockstream, a company that has signed deals to help New Line Cinema, Artemis Records and others secure their Internet-distributed content. "The video industry needs to be [active] about digital distribution. If they aren't, what happened to the audio industry will happen to them."
Part of the problem is that companies like Napster and Scour.com acknowledge that their services are used for illegal copying but, they say, they are unable to filter out copyrighted material from non-copyrighted material. As a result, 20 million Napster users can use a Web site like Scour. com to find content, copy it onto their local hard drive, and then share it with others via Napster or a similar service.
"It's not the technology we're opposed to," says Richard Taylor, Motion Picture Association of America vice president of public affairs. "It's the business built upon the theft. A brick can be used for good things, but, if you use it to smash a window and steal,.that action is wrong."
Morris considers the technology behind Napster brilliant and believes that there will be legitimate companies, including Napster itself, that will eventually work with content producers to help them reach customers. "It'll work for the distribution company like Napster; it'll be a win for the content producer and the customer as well," he says. "There's going to be a level of pain as all of this gets worked out, but there is an inevitability that it has to happen because the creative community can't be held hostage and not allowed to monetize their effort."
What will be the upshot of the current legal proceedings? Howard Weitzman, CEO of Massive Media Group, a technology startup focused on providing digital rights management, believes the lawsuits may hinder financial investment in companies similar to Napster or Scour.com. "People put millions of dollars into these companies to facilitate the theft of copyrighted material," he says. "So I think the people who create these sites won't get the financial backing they need to become larger services."
The current woes do have an upside. For one, it's clear that there are millions of consumers interested in receiving content via the Internet. It's this demand that Goodman says the industry misread by not providing legal alternatives for obtaining content. "I think that, if there's a security solution that is relatively easy to work with, people will pay," he notes. "But if you don't give them a [means] to get their content legally, then the result will be this pirated content."
Changing business models may not be what content distributors want, but the customers definitely seem interested. The question for the industry is how open is it to investigating new revenue streams? "At the end of the day, the people on the top of the food chains for television, music and movies were born, bred and educated for a certain business model," says Brett Markinson, president and CEO of DES (Digital Entertainment Systems).
"All of a sudden, there's a shock to the system in the form of a global network that can dismantle the entire business model, and they don't know what to do. And, as a byproduct, there's fear, and a byproduct of that is denial that things will change."