Sightsound’s Movie Download Patent Has Hollywood's Attention

While the music industry reels from the explosion of freely traded music on the Internet, the looming possibility of a video equivalent has made Hollywood extremely interested in a small startup company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sightsound.com, as it was named by partners Authur Hair and Scott Sander, has what appears to be a secure patent on technology for digitally downloading movies over the Internet.

The two rock-climbing buddies founded their company after Hair was granted a patent in 1993 for a technique he had described as a "Method for Transmitting a Desired Video or Audio Signal." The patent-approval process had taken five years. When he first applied for his patent back in 1987, only a relatively small percentage of the population was connected to the Internet, and no one in the entertainment industry foresaw the huge problems and opportunities it would present.

Sightsound.com had originally attempted a partnership with the music industry, but fear of digital downloading caused record-company executives to stick their heads in the figurative sand. The repercussions of that have now come back to haunt them.

Traditionally, the film industry has been equally reluctant to embrace new technology, but this time might be different. Several independent studios have already signed up with Sightsound.com, according to Thomas Petzinger, Jr. of the Wall Street Journal, who reported May 7 that Sightsound.com has a network of servers in Pittsburgh and six other cities "ready to sell 375,000 feature films a day to Web users." Sightsound.com will collect fees for its service, and Sander says his company will make sure the studios get their fair share. Artisan Entertainment, a Sightsound.com investor, made history last month when Pi, its cheapo thriller about Wall Street, became the first feature film sold by download and transmitted over the Internet.

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