Hollywood Piracy Concerns Rise

No one who's ventured into a computer store recently could have failed to note the amount of space devoted to video capture and editing technology. Most of it is being marketed to amateur videomakers and would-be cinematographers, but there's an obvious implication that the next step is bit-for-bit copying of commercial DVDs.

The electronics industry has also ramped up production of hard disk and DVD-based video recorders, and Sony last week announced the first release of a high-capacity "Blu-ray" DVD recorder capable of capturing a two-hour high-definition broadcast. Duplicating ability combined with high-speed Internet connections would allow movie fans to swap films with each other quickly and easily. A film-industry Napster is where technology is headed, and it's one of Hollywood's biggest and most persistent nightmares.

During the first week of March, executive from the film industry and from Silicon Valley technology companies presented opposing views to Washington lawmakers about the threats and opportunities that digital technology presents. On Thursday March 6, entertainment industry spokesmen pleaded for legally-mandated copy protection, claiming that without it, quality programming couldn't be broadcast over the air, but would be relegated to cable and satellite TV. Hollywood lobbyists again pushed for the inclusion of a "broadcast flag" in high-def broadcasts, an electronic marker that would prevent copying or distributing pirated broadcasts over the Internet. Technologists and civil libertarians have crusaded against the broadcast flag, saying it would prevent consumers from making copies for their own use.

The debate continued in the nation's capital, but during hearings scientists at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center unintentionally added fuel to Hollywood's paranoia by breaking the Internet speed record for data transmission. Using a fiber optic network unencumbered by other traffic, the scientists were able to send 6.7 gigabytes of data (the equivalent of two DVD movies) 6800 miles in less than one minute.

The uncompressed data moved 923 megabits per second for 58 seconds from Sunnyvale, California, to Amsterdam, Netherlands or "3500 times faster than a typical Internet broadband connection," according to a CNN news report. The result could eventually yield high-speed data transfer for "practical everyday applications," said Les Cottrell, assistant director of the center. "Imagine ... being able to download two full-length, two-hour movies within a minute," he noted. "That changes the whole idea of how media is distributed."

Data transfer rates have followed a variation of Moore's Law, which states that maximum semiconductor speed and memory would double every year. Data rates have done exactly that every year since 1984, according to Stanford scientists.