Consumers may get the right to make several legal copies of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc films they've purchased, if a licensing agreement in its final stages reaches completion.
This concession by the movie industry follows criticism that DRM (digital rights management) technologies are too restrictive.
The agreement, if supported by movie studios and film companies, could allow a consumer to make a backup copy in case their original disc is damaged and another copy for their home media server, said Michael Ayers, a representative of an industry group that licenses the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) copy-prevention system.
AACS is used on HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, the new high-definition DVD formats, to prevent unauthorised copying of the discs.
The concept, called managed copy', would undercut one the strongest arguments against DRM technology, which critics say deprives buyers of their legal right to fair uses such as moving their content to other digital systems and devices.
The licensing agreement is under negotiation between the AACS Licensing Adminstrator, which Ayers represents, and companies using AACS technology, including film makers. AACS LA members include Sony, IBM, Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and Microsoft.
AACS LA is pushing the studios to support managed copy and offer consumers the option of making at least one copy, Ayers said.
"We want to be able to maximise the number of movies that are able to be offered," he said.
The idea is that the content companies could charge a premium according to how many copies are allowed, Ayers said. It remains a possibility that consumers, if given the chance to make three copies of Spider-man 2 could give those copies to their neighbours, which technically would qualify as low-volume piracy.
But AACS LA believes that movie studios will see higher sales with the managed copy option, even with the chance it could be abused, Ayers said. "Studios will have to take that into account when they select pricing," Ayers said.
On the technology side, a system of servers, run by the studios or third parties, could enable the authorisation of copies. Newly minted discs could be prevented from further copying by employing DRM technology from companies such as Microsoft, Ayers said.
AACS LA is now working out what rights studios and film companies would have under the complex licensing agreement. "We are optimistic that the studios will see this as a benefit that will drive sales," Ayers said.