The partnership between the two French companies marks a significant step that could trigger other studios to create liaisons, or "make companies that have alternative ideas for content protection stand their ground," according to Richard Doherty, director of research for The Envisioneering Group, a New York-based technology testing and market research firm.
"This is really putting up...the boundaries...that (Vivendi and Thomson) are marking, saying, 'This land is our land,'" Doherty said. "There's also the idea of French nationalism at work here...the energy for life is what this has. They are concerned about (piracy) nationally and culturally, so it's a very big deal."
Vivendi and Thomson enter the crowded field of digital rights management, marked by a flurry of major electronics companies already working with the Hollywood studios to combat piracy in the United States. The Video Watermarking (VWM) Group--a coalition of consumer-electronics companies that includes Hitachi, Macrovision, NEC, Philips Electronics, Pioneer and Sony--has been aiming to bolster copy-protection schemes by creating a watermark. That system places a unique bit of code into a video file, making it difficult to copy or play without permission from copyright holders.
Thomson said the partnership will focus first on DVD replication; the companies will seek to address content distributed via the Internet down the road. Thomson markets products under the Thomson brand in Europe and under RCA in the United States. It markets media services under its Technicolor brand, which produces and distributes DVDs, CD-ROMs, videocassettes and other media formats. It is also a co-producer of the MP3 digital audio format, which has become closely associated with online music piracy.
Vivendi Universal media properties span music, publishing, Internet, TV and film, including Universal Studios in the United States and StudioCanal in France.
The issue of piracy has been highlighted in recent copyright infringement cases. Last month, the Motion Picture Association of America said it helped the New York police department shut down an alleged unlicensed DVD-copying operation based out of a Bronx apartment. U.S. law enforcement officials called the raid the first bust of its kind targeting DVD counterfeiting in the country.
The movie industry has ratcheted up the pace of its complaints about online video piracy in recent months, as analysts report that hundreds of thousands of copies of feature films are traded or downloaded every day using file-swapping applications or other means.
But many of the industry's efforts are still dedicated to physical piracy. The MPAA estimates that the industry loses about $3 billion to non-Internet piracy per year. Much of that has come in the form of illegally copied videos, DVDs and video discs in Asia.
Copy protection "is a hot-button (issue) for Hollywood studios," said Dave Arland, a spokesman for Thomson Multimedia. "Piracy is a concern for Hollywood all (across) the board...certainly it's played out mostly on the Internet, but they are worried about it in many forms."