Hollywood argues – or at least strongly implies – that technology companies could stop copyright infringement if they wanted to, but have chosen not to do so. I have often wondered whether Hollywood really believes this, or whether the claim is just a ploy to gain political advantage.
Such a ploy might be very effective if it worked. Imagine that you somehow convinced policymakers that the auto industry could make cars that operated with no energy source at all. You could then demand that the auto industry make all sorts of concessions in energy policy, and you could continue to criticize them for foot-dragging no matter how much they did.
If you were using this ploy, the dumbest thing you could do is to set up your own “Perpetual Motion Labs” to develop no-energy-source cars. Your lab would fail, of course, and its failure would demonstrate that your argument was bogus all along. You would only set up the lab if you thought that perpetual-motion cars were pretty easy to build.
Which brings us to the movie industry’s announcement, yesterday, that they will set up “MovieLabs”, a $30 million research effort to develop effective anti-copying technologies. The only sensible explanation for this move is that Hollywood really believes that there are easily-discovered anti-copying technologies that the technology industry has failed to find.
So Hollywood is still in denial about digital copying.
The pressure will be on MovieLabs to find strong anti-copying technologies, because a failure by MovieLabs can’t be blamed on the tech industry. Failure will show, instead, that stopping digital copying is much harder than Hollywood thought. And MovieLabs will fail, just as Perpetual Motion Labs would.
When MovieLabs fails, expect the spinners to emerge again, telling us that MovieLabs has a great technology that it can’t tell us about, or that there’s a great technology that isn’t quite finished, or that the goal all along was not to stop P2P copying but only to reduce some narrow, insignificant form of copying. Expect, most of all, that MovieLabs will go to almost any length to avoid independent evaluation of its technologies.
This is a chance for Hollywood to learn what the rest of us already know – that cheap and easy copying is an unavoidable side-effect of the digital revolution.