Alcatel-Lucent: Industry initiative will combat piracy

Ease of use has driven "media-savvy" consumers to piracy, but a new initiative has the power to lure them back.

Ease of use has driven "media-savvy" consumers to piracy when it comes to obtaining digital entertainment, but a new industry initiative has the potential to lure them back to legal methods, according to an executive at Alcatel-Lucent.

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, announced Friday, involves major movie studios, entertainment conglomerates, IT vendors and retailers, which aim to give consumers more power and choice, making it possible to buy and play content across multiple devices. Users will also get an online library, which can be accessed from both home and on the road, according to the initiative backers.

"If you give consumers what they want, when and how they want it, they are willing to pay," said Steve West, director, Americas strategy, at Alcatel-Lucent, which wants to build the high-bandwidth networks that will make that possible.

Improvements that online retailers have made have already made piracy somewhat less of an issue, and especially with the addition of making content available across multiple devices, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem will offer something that piracy sites can't. "That value proposition is absolutely unique," said West.

Retailers involved in the initiative will eventually offer services for users to obtain digital content, including some based on subscriptions. A specification will be developed, along with a certification logo, that lets users know that the content they are obtaining is not pirated and will work on certified hardware.

The success of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem is also key to getting the general public to start buying downloaded content -- currently, it's difficult for consumers to know what they can and can't do with a song or a movie, and that growing confusion is threatening mass-scale adoption of legal download services, according to West.

All the lofty goals aside, there are still stumbling blocks. The companies behind the system include Alcatel-Lucent, Best Buy, Cisco Systems, Comcast, Fox Entertainment Group, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lionsgate, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony, which West credits for getting the initiative off the ground, Toshiba, VeriSign and Warner Bros. Entertainment. An impressive list, but Apple, which dominates the digital download market today, and Disney, are still missing. Apple doesn't want to comment, according to spokesman Alan Heley. But the door is open.

"We'd certainly invite like-minded companies to join, so that decision is up to those companies," West said.

One thing still unclear is how the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem will use DRM (digital rights management), which in the past has been a thorn in the side of consumers. "The work on the specification has only now started. Open DRM will be used to facilitate multiple types of business models that make sense for online retailers and consumers, including subscriptions, purchases and rentals. But at the end of the day, it's all about broadening consumer choice," West said.

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