SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Entertainment industry conferences have an unfortunate tendency to devolve into gripe sessions about ungrateful, immoral consumers who merrily pirate the work of others and/or object to any attempts by owners to control their content.

And there was plenty of that sort of griping going on at this year's Digital Hollywood conference, held last week in Santa Monica, Calif. But one panel discussion, "Digital Choice and Access to Digital Content - Balancing Consumer Rights with Technology, Regulation and Legal Principles" stood out from the fray. Participants actually discussed ways that DRM and copyright have imposed unfair restrictions on content use, and discussed ideas that they hoped would allow both businesses and consumers to be happy.

The panel started off with a copyright attorney blasting copyright laws.

"We're setting up a friction that doesn't exist between consumer rights and copyright, so how do we encourage dissemination and access to all of these works that are being created? We need to rewrite the copyright laws," said panelist Ann Chaitovitz, former executive director at the Future of Music Coalition and a copyright attorney-advisor to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Exclusive rights may be fine in the abstract, but they don't work in the real world, said Chaitovitz. "Technology took away all of the controls," she said. "Copyright law was intended to encourage innovation. Maybe it's time to scrap the exclusive rights concept and ask ourselves again how to incentivize creation."

Chaitovitz raised the idea that music companies, driven by fear that their business model was collapsing, initially used Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology in what she described as a "stupid" way. Consumers voiced their objections, the market worked and the labels stopped using intrusive DRM.

A warning for Amazon's Kindle

She said she believes the same thing will happen with Amazon's Kindle, which has been criticized for using draconian DRM, including the requirement that publishers must supply DRM-protected digital copies of books for the Kindle bookstore no matter what the publisher may think about DRM.

But that change may not happen until the public makes its wishes known in a concrete way, she said. Publishers can't afford to make a stand and risk having their books locked out of the Kindle store.

Also under discussion was the idea that DRM can, when used correctly, help everyone do the right thing.

Panelists agreed that just because they have the legal right to control their content, the public doesn't necessarily see DRM as legitimate. They discussed that one of the ways business can change that perception is to demonstrate that part of the cost of content is actually being paid to the creators of that content, not just the companies that package and distribute it.

That said, panelists agreed that technology and tech companies have wreaked havoc on the entertainment and news business, killing any controls that businesses might have once had over who accesses their content and how they use and redistribute it.

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