Sony, Warner To Back Digital Protection

NEW YORK–Two big Hollywood studios reached agreements to back technology that protects digital content as it moves between home devices such as set-top boxes, computers and televisions, Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal reported.

The accords, expected to be announced today, represent an early step toward the future of digital home-entertainment networks, in which consumers could make digital copies of programs and view them on several different devices. The agreements involve Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures
Entertainment and AOL Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio. They reached the licensing agreements with the Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator, an alliance of five big manufacturers that is widely referred to as the 5C group: Intel Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Toshiba Corp., Sony and Hitachi Ltd.

The new agreements will one day allow consumers to make digital recordings of some content produced by the Sony and Warner Bros. studios, using their computers or digital video recorders. But the agreements fall far short of an industry consensus, as major entertainment giants such as Walt Disney Co. and Vivendi Universal SA have yet to endorse the standard. The biggest stumbling block is the security of free broadcast programming that is received through TV antennas.

Negotiations over the issue have gone on for years. Consumer-products makers want to sell digital devices that will connect with each other in home networks, including digital video recorders. For their part, entertainment companies are worried about consumers making perfect, unauthorized digital copies of their most valuable programs, and zapping them around the world free of charge.

More than 50 companies have already licensed the security technology, including makers of set-top cable boxes and consumer-electronics products. But Sony and Warner are the first major Hollywood studios to sign on. Entertainment companies won’t let their movies and shows be used in the new home digital networks until they are satisfied with how they will be protected.

Under the deals reached between the two studios and the electronics giants, certain instructions and restrictions could be embedded in digital content such as movies. The agreements essentially set up several classes of protection, according to people familiar with them.
The most protected class includes pay-per-view movies, which the entertainment companies would be able to prevent consumers from copying without permission. Consumers would be able to record portions of pay-per-view movies, however.

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