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MPAA's Valenti pushes for copy-control PCs

A set-top box on every desk

Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) President Jack Valenti has made a veiled pitch for copy-control PCs in a letter to the editor published by the Washington Post.

While much of the letter is devoted to incoherent ranting about some dastardly cabal of "professors" who are trying to rip the guts out of Hollywood, and hysterical claims such as "some 350,000-plus films are being downloaded illegally every day," we do get an interesting wrap-up where the industry Ass. President alludes to the need for the PC to be transformed into a secure content-distrbution device along the lines of a set-top box.

"Computer and video-device companies need to sit at the table with the movie industry. Together, in good-faith talks, they must agree on the ingredients for creating strong protection for copyrighted films and then swiftly implement that agreement to make it an Internet reality."

Otherwise, the industry just can't make movies available for download and viewing on the PC.

The problem, we're told, is that Hollywood can't make a profit on its theatre showings and simply has to make it up on the aftermarket, with video and DVD rentals and such. The insecurity of Net distribution would simply choke off too much of that desperately-needed revenue stream.

"Only two in ten films ever retrieve their production and marketing investment from domestic theatrical exhibition," Valenti whines.

Well of course; but that's because they're ridiculously expensive cartoons that no one over the age of fifteen really wants to watch. But the obvious solution isn't hijacking people's computers and turning them into set-top boxes, but rather making cheaper movies that adults actually care to attend. And the great thing here is that the two go hand-in-hand. It's not an either/or proposition. Movies that involve such grown-up elements as good writing and dialogue and an imaginative story don't require spending of hundreds of millions on infantile whiz-bang special effects.

On top of that, good writers, being largely unknown in Hollywood, will be cheaper than the unimaginative alchemists who chuck together the stock blockbuster ingredients according to the same exhausted formula; and good actors, similarly rare, will be likely to work for a lot less than the no-talent beautiful people we're supposed to accept as plausible characters in these showy fiascoes Hollywood keeps turning out.

Now isn't that a fine remedy? Better movies that more people actually wish to attend, made more cheaply, equals bigger profit margins for the studios and more enjoyment for the public.

So there's really no need to get bent out of shape over 350,000 illegal downloads a day (chump-change at video rental prices in any case), or to re-engineer the personal computer either. All we need is for Hollywood to stop wasting such vast quantities of money as it's accustomed to doing. ®

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