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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 16:44 GMT
Broadcasters join the DRM debate
Spencer Kelly
By Spencer Kelly
Click presenter

With broadband now widespread and video all the rage online, it is no great surprise that digital rights management (DRM) - the digital locks determining how we use our media - is fast occupying the minds of the movie moguls.

An iPod showing scene from Desperate Housewives
iTunes offer a limited selection of TV programmes in the US

Forget DVD regions and copy protection, the debate over controlling video content is taking on a whole new dimension.

Like the music industry, the Hollywood studios and the broadcast industry are terrified of losing control over their highly produced and very expensive material. Hence, high-profile campaigns that tell us not to download films illegally from file-sharing sites.

Of late, Hollywood's been showing signs of cautiously dipping its toes in the muddy waters of online downloads, mainly in America.

In addition, to established players like Movielink, there are various new entrants from different quarters making waves.

The most significant is Apple. Steve Jobs hopes to do with movies what he has done with music - revolutionise the sector, lock it into iTunes and make lots of money in the process.

So far though, the iTunes movie and TV content is pretty limited, and of course it is tightly wrapped in DRM. So you can transfer content onto your iPod but you cannot burn it to disc to watch on a regular DVD player.

ABC offers its biggest shows online

Apple's mainstream rival, Amazon, also has a movie and TV download service - Unbox. But this is even more restrictive, allowing your purchases to be played on only two PCs and two compatible portable media devices. No burning rights here either.

Mainstream media's also hungry for a piece of the action. The American networks NBC and ABC are turning to the web to offer programmes and films, but they are streamed, not downloadable.

In the UK, Channel 4 was the first of the main broadcasters to offer a video-on-demand service, while the BBC and ITV plan similar services for later in the year.

And yes, all the services will be loaded to the hilt with DRM, which basically means being restricted to being kept on the PC you have downloaded it on.

Then there are the new kids on the block, like Joost, a legal peer-to-peer service. But this only offers streams of mainstream and Indie content.

BitTorrent also has a new look. It was long the bete noire of the entertainment industry because its technology is used to promote piracy but now its founders are after a slice of the pie with DRM-supported downloads.

Just do not expect to take them off the computer unless you are prepared to invest in a few cables or other kit which links it somehow to your TV set.

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