Swedish firm offers legal alternative to internet piracy

A Swedish company believes it may have discovered a lawful solution to the movie industry's long-running file sharing quandary. By merging peer to peer file sharing methods with advanced watermarking technology, Stockholm firm Headweb hopes to beat the internet pirates at their own game and offer consumers a legal alternative.

Customers will be given the opportunity to pay for movies, download them legally using BitTorrent technology and view them using a regular DVD player.

Prior to setting up the company, Headweb’s Chief Operating Officer Peter Alvarsson spent over three years working in the DVD production business. Everywhere he looked, Digital Rights Management (DRM), or copy protection, seemed to present an insurmountable obstacle to the establishment of a consumer-friendly downloading service.

“Apart from iTunes, all the legal downloading options were based on a Windows platform, and none of them would allow users to burn DVDs,” he told The Local.

But then Alvarsson came up with the idea of watermarking data files rather than restricting their reproduction. Like many good ideas, it came to him in the shower.

“This was back in February 2006,” he said.

Once the idea took root, Alvarsson decided it was worth taking a financial risk and set about creating Headweb.

The company, which has grown to encompass 15 staff members, intends to begin selling movies in Sweden before the end of September.

The Headweb client is a four-pronged mechanism which includes a payment system, downloading client, media player and DVD burning software. Although limited to Windows at first, it will eventually also be compatible with Mac and Linux systems.

Customers can choose either to view films on their computers or burn them onto a DVD. The length of time it takes to download a movie will of course depend on a user’s internet connection speed.

“But we can roughly say that if you have a connection offering 8-10 Megabits per second it will take 90 minutes to download a 90 minute film. With 24 Mbits/sec it will take 30 minutes,” said Alvarsson.

“We will also offer other video formats that do not require as much space, such as Xvid and DivX, both of which can be played on newer DVD players,” he added.

As for the end user cost, Headweb is “aiming for 20 to 25 percent less than a physical DVD”.

Unlike its illegal file sharing rivals, Headweb is able to guarantee that its movies have not been shot from the back of a cinema.

And the film industry can rest assured that eventual copyright infringement will be traceable.

“Every download will have an individual watermark, like a serial number embedded in the picture.

“It’s better for consumers, as it will allow them to make DVD copies of their films. It’s also better for the film industry, which can trace illegal uploaders,” said Alvarsson.

The file sharing community has also been more receptive to the idea than he had anticipated.

“The overall reaction has been very positive, which surprised me a bit. People have been saying: ‘Finally, just what I was waiting for. Now I can stop downloading shitty quality films’,” he said.

One drawback however is that stocks are limited to just 500 titles. But Headweb’s founder envisages more industry players coming on board soon after the launch.

“Distributors have told us they think it’s a great idea and they want to get involved if they see that it works.

“We’ve been talking to big American companies. It takes time to convince them but they know they have to change. It’s just a matter of time before they start using this kind of downloading technology,” he said.