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Spec Paves Legal Path To Sharing Downloaded Movies

A specification launched with little fanfare late last week might someday do for video what Apple's iPod did for music.
LAS VEGAS — A specification launched with little fanfare late last week might someday do for video what Apple's iPod did for music.

The 0.9 version of the Advanced Access Content Systems (AACS) specification, posted on the Internet last week (April 14), is intended to control digital rights while enabling users to download movies from the Web, burn them to DVDs, share them over a home network or download them to portable or car video players.

Industry sources said both competing camps of next-generation DVD developers — Blu-Ray and HD-DVD — are close to agreement on adoption of the technology. That could open the door to giving users rights to what insiders call "managed copying" of high-definition digital movies.

Eight companies announced the formation of AACS a year ago to develop copy protection for next-generation DVDs. But the specification the group has written has much broader potential.

AACS is "not only for prerecorded content. The specification can also be used for recording so we hope to be used in download business models as well," said Alan Bell, senior vice president of technology at Warner Brothers told the National Association of Broadcasters conference here.

"This is a very big effort, and we think it is very far along," said Richard Doherty of the Envisioneering Group (Seaford, N.Y.), a technology analysis company that reviewed the specification last week.

Doherty said the spec aims to cover a variety usage models that might be defined by a content owner. The new models might include moving digital movies purchased on the Web to a portable or car player, a home network, or even shared with a friend for a limited number of views. AACS was founded by IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic Sony, Toshiba, Warner Brothers and The Walt Disney Co. Three of the companies — Panasonic, Sony and Disney — are also founding members of the Blu-Ray next-generation DVD group. Toshiba is a key developer of the rival HD-DVD specification.

"We have had meetings as recently as last week with both [next-gen DVD] sides on how to mate [AACS] with their formats," said Bell.

"The HD-DVD side is very close to accepting this," said Martha Nalebuff, director for DRM strategy and policy at Microsoft Corp, also on the NAB panel discussion.

Some sources have suggested the Blu-Ray group is considering asking for modifications to the standard, but Brad Hunt, chief technology officer for the Motion Picture Association of America, said he believes the Blu-Ray group is also close to adopting AACS.

"If we confuse the consumer [with multiple digital rights technologies] they could reject all of them," Hunt said in the panel.

Rather than confuse consumers, the AACS members hope to delight them with a new level of navigation and interactivity as well as the ability to move files across their various systems, Bell said. "Content owners know it will take more than sharp, high-definition pictures" to attract users to a new movie format, he said.

The AASC version 0.9 specification could be implemented in whatever software language the device maker prefers — C, Java or C++, said Doherty. It was designed to be both lightweight and robust, he added.