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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 09:07 GMT
Real boss tackles online piracy
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff

The online piracy of songs and films can be stopped but just shutting down illegal file-sharing services is not enough, says Rob Glaser, boss of Real Networks.

The head of the digital media software company says the entertainment industry needs to provide people with an alternative to using file-sharing services like Kazaa.

Real recently announced new software that it says will allow the media companies to distribute their music and video online without worrying about copies springing up across the web.

The music industry blames illegal music downloads for eating away at record sales, pointing to a 10% drop in album sales in the US in 2002.

Money net

Mr Glaser says that his company has shown it is possible to convince people to pay for music or videos online.

Real CEO Rob Glaser
Glaser: Command and control approach does not work
The Seattle-based firm has more than 900,000 subscribers, who pay an average of $10 a month, to watch or listen to material over the internet.

The number pales by comparison to the millions who use file-sharing programs like Kazaa and Morpheus.

But Mr Glaser is convinced that people can be persuaded to switch to paid-for services.

"I don't think online piracy is impossible to stop," he told BBC News Online.

"But the command and control approach to just saying 'hey we want to shut this down' and not offer a compelling alternative that's commercial doesn't work very well because the internet is such an open environment.

"If you just shut services down, like shutting down Napster, others will pop up unless you offer a commercial alternative," he said.

Media control

The entertainment industry has been hesitant about offering songs and films over the internet. Mr Glaser admits that media companies were initially suspicious, but says this is changing.

You will be able to just push a couple of buttons and order access to a programme on demand
Rob Glaser, Real CEO
The Real boss is also the chairman of subscription music service, MusicNet, which is part-owned by Real Networks along with AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and the EMI Group.

But MusicNet, together with the other major pay music services, have been slow to take off. In some cases record labels have withheld popular new releases fearing that digital distribution might harm sales of CDs or that pirated copies would appear online.

Mr Glaser argues digital rights management (DRM) technology has reached a point where the widespread piracy of media can be stopped.

With Real's own Helix DRM system, people who download music or video from the internet can do so only for certain formats such as digital music players and are prevented from transferring the material to unauthorised users.

"The rights holders have to be thoughtful and balanced in how they make their content available," says Mr Glaser.

"If they are too restrictive, then the consumers will say this is too difficult and give up or go back to the pirate sites."

Video to go

He points to the example of DVDs, which are copy-protected yet at the same time easy to use.

"It's clearly possible to have a good level of protection from the standpoint of the rights holders and make it easy for the consumer. For a variety of reasons that hasn't happened on the internet," says Mr Glaser.

The trend towards the digital distribution of music and video is unstoppable, believes the Real boss, though some things will not change.

You will still have to go to the cinema to see newly-released blockbusters, but the trip to the video shop may become a thing of the past.

"You will be able to just push a couple of buttons and order access to a programme on demand," says Mr Glaser.

"You'll be able to have access not only via your television and your PC, but also via your mobile.

"You might not watch a full movie but you might watch the news highlights or a Manchester United goal," he added.



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