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Piracy on Agenda When Mainstream, Adult Industries Meet

Universal City- NBC Universal and Titan Media are about as far apart as companies can get in the entertainment industry.

One is a multi-media conglomerate that once gave viewers the powerhouse lineup of Must See TV on Thursday nights; the other a San Francisco-based adult entertainment company that’s released such titles as “Copperhead Canyon” and “Shacked Up.”

But there was a representative from each company sitting next to each other on a panel discussing legal strategies to stop the theft of their respective content, especially through digital means.

“Our company in these difficult times is doing well and I think it’s because of our anti-piracy efforts, said Gill Sperlein, the general counsel for Titan.

Discussions in Hollywood about stopping pirates who counterfeit DVDs or put programming on the Internet without the permission of the owners is nothing new.

What was new and perhaps unprecedented about the event taking place in Universal City on Nov. 18 was that it brought together in the same room members of the mainstream and adult entertainment industries.

The intent was for adult content providers to hear what worked and what didn’t when it came to anti-piracy efforts and for the mainstreamers to understand how “incredible” the adult industry is, said Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, the Canoga Park trade organization for adult businesses sponsoring the one-day anti-piracy conference in conjunction with two law firms.

The list of speakers was impressive. Along with NBC and Titan, there were executives from the Motion Picture Association of America, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Sony BMG Music Entertainment. (The NBC representative asked that his name not be published.)

Pirating cost the member studios of the MPAA $6.1 billion worldwide in 2005, the most recent numbers available from the association. The cost to the adult industry is less clear although past estimates calculated a piracy loss of 25 percent of annual sales revenues.

Whatever the number, content theft has become of such importance to adult companies that a September 2007 meeting on the issue drew some 60 companies to discuss what steps they should take next. In February, some of those same companies formed the PAK Group to file lawsuits against suspected pirates and educate producers of adult content how to protect their work.

Legal action was acknowledged as a good avenue to pursue to show that media companies are serious about enforcement of their copyrights.

“There needs to be something more than a tepid response,” said Alasdair McMullan, executive vice president, legal affairs for EMI Music North America. “It is litigation that gives tepid responses some teeth.”

One major obstacle both adult and mainstream companies face is a generation of viewers who think nothing of getting free content online.

Many of the panelists agreed that education efforts are important to put a dent in viewers downloading or streaming pirated content.

Jason Tucker thinks the companies could be doing more.

Studios could make short public service announcements featuring popular performers and announcements at concerts that wouldn’t cost much money to do, said Tucker, president and co-owner of Falcon Foto, a Sylmar-based photo and video library and a founder of the PAK Group.

“You can get through to some of these children at a young age,” Tucker said.

Another tactic pursued by some mainstream studios is co-opting file sharing sites and get them to go legit in exchange for licensing agreements.

When Warner Bros. Entertainment chooses who it partners with for digital distribution what a potential partner has done in the past may not factor into the decision.

For instance, the studio’s original DVD distributor in Asia had been a pirate operation, said David Kaplan, senior vice president and intellectual property counsel, worldwide anti-piracy operations.

For Warner Bros. to move ahead, websites must show they are on the path to compliance and taking steps to minimizing pirated content, Kaplan said.

“You don’t want to do a deal where the same content is available for free,” Kaplan said.

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