Hollywood Feels the Burn

Hollywood loosened its iron copyright fist ever so slightly in the last week by allowing two major movie download sites to cross the burn barrier. CinemaNow and Movielink took steps to let users burn downloaded movies to DVD. Both sites are affiliates with the big studios, which have resisted allowing burns for generic DVD players for fear of piracy.

Movielink is a joint venture of MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros., content contributors all, with additional titles from Disney, 20th Century Fox and indie studios mixed in. CinemaNow investors include EchoStar, Index Holdings, Menlo Ventures, Transcosmos, Microsoft, Lions Gate, Cisco Systems and Blockbuster. It's movies come from Sony, MGM, Lions Gate, Disney and Universal.

Burning from Movielink is still a work in progress, while CinemaNow launched the capability July 19 as a beta service. About 100 of CinemaNow's 4,000 titles are available for burning, with more expected in the months ahead. Among those available now--"Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," "Scent of a Woman" and "Barbershop." The service includes the extras found on typical movie DVDs, like surround sound, special features, multiple languages, commentary tracks, even a label and cover art, for around $9.

Both sites are using secure technologies that allow only single-copy burns and incorporate copy protection into the burned DVD. CinemaNow Burn to DVD service is using fluxDVD from Germany company ACE, GmbH. Movielink is using copy protection technology from Sonic Solutions, maker of Roxio disc-burning software based in Novato, Calif.

Movielink, located in Santa Monica, Calif., announced the agreement with Sonic on July 17. Movielink CEO Jim Ramo told Reuters that the service is expected to become available over the next six months, contingent upon approval from the participating studios. Like CinemaNow's offering, only a portion of Movielink's 1,500 titles are expected to be made available for burning.

CinemaNow, of Marina Del Ray, Calif., started selling movie downloads in April, and chief executive, Curt Marvis, told The New York Times that response to that offering had been "tepid." One reason he cited was the price that CinemaNow had to charge as opposed to what the same title might go for in a Wal-Mart.

However, even in a broadband environment, downloading a movie can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the film, and burning can add another two to five hours. A silent black-and-white Buster Keaton film with a run time of 67 minutes took approximately a half-hour to download from Movielink, for example. That's not counting the initial software download, which adds another half-hour or so. At the same time, the rental price for the same film was $2.99, and the movie can be started before the download is complete.