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MPAA sings, "Kumbaya"

MPAA chief Dan Glickman ventured into friendly Beverly Hills waters today to make his first speech about digital rights management policy, offering his views to a DRM conference sponsored by LexisNexis and Variety. He sounded a bit like his frequent rhetorical sparring partner, CEO Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Assn., saying he "wholeheartedly" supported enabling consumers to make copies of the movies they buy. He added that consumers who acquire movies legally should be able to watch them on any device -- another thing that's not possible today, partly because of non-interoperable DRM, but also because the industry has demanded more protection against piracy than the typical home provides.

But Glickman wasn't backing away from DRM -- not at all. Instead, he was simply making a case for better use of the technology.

Industry's goal should be to make the limits imposed by DRM virtually invisible, while using the technology to give more choices for consuming Hollywood's products. Achieving those ends is less a technological problem than a matter of "collective will," Glickman said. To that end, he said the major studios want to have high-level discussions about DRM with computer and consumer-electronics companies. Instead of leaving such thorny issues as interoperability to technical discussions among engineers and lawyers, get leaders of the various industries together to make strategic commitments. "By and large, we know what technology is making possible," he told the group. "We need to agree on what is workable, healthy and sustainable for our businesses -- and how that fits with what is not merely acceptable to the consumer, but exciting, innovative, even thrilling."

Glickman's belief is that the knotty technical issues will be easier to solve if there's agreement at the highest levels of the companies involved. Getting studio chiefs to agree with the CEOs of computer and TV manufacturers won't be easy, however. Just look at the hold-up over "managed copy," or the ability to rip a movie file legally onto a hard drive. The studios want watermark detectors built into new DVD players and computers that can stop playback of bootlegged discs. But the CE and IT industries have balked, leaving the proposal in limbo for years.

Alan Bell, chief technical officer at Paramount Pictures, suggested another problem in the current inter-industry discussions over DRM. The missing link, he said, has been consumers, not CEOs. "Maybe there needs to be more of a search for solutions consumers are going to adopt," he said in an interview after Glickman's talk. The fact that this comment is coming from Bell, a studio guy, is a sign of the growing recognition in Hollywood that maybe, just maybe, they've been trying to solve the wrong equation. The MPAA has also been pushing this point of view in recent months, in behind-the-scenes discussions with its members. If that becomes the starting point for Glickman's high-level discussions, the results could be really interesting.


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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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