November 9, 2006 9:34 AM PST

Copyright eased for clips offered by Grouper

Film clips featuring stars such as Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz can now be shared online without violating copyright law.

Grouper.com, acquired last August by Sony Pictures Entertainment, is offering snippets from 100 Sony films and TV shows for users to integrate into blogs and on social networking sites such as MySpace, the company said Thursday.

Fans can choose, for example, to have Nicholson appear barking "You can't handle the truth!" (in A Few Good Men) or Marlon Brando declaring "I could have been a contender" (in On the Waterfront).

This is the latest attempt to solve the copyright issue plaguing the video-sharing sector. Hollywood studios and other media companies are cracking down on sites that allow users to upload their copyright material without compensating them.

Universal Music Group filed suit against Grouper and Bolt.com for allowing users to post UMG's copyright material on those sites. Video sharing's largest player, YouTube, was sued last summer by a Los Angeles journalist after he saw several postings on the site of a video he shot of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

To avoid court battles, some video sites are trying to strike content-sharing deals with studios and music labels.

That's what Sony said it is after with Grouper's new "ScreenBites" channel. By offering famous scenes from hit films for free, Sony is hoping fans will be prompted to buy the full-length movie, the company said in a statement.

Links are posted with each clip that enable users to quickly purchase the entire film.

Grouper CEO Josh Felser, who sold his company to Sony Pictures for $65 million, said this is only the first phase of a larger plan.

Sony and Grouper plan to offer many more clips from Sony's library and eventually offer them for people to include in homemade videos.

"The challenge with that is making sure that we have the right commerce model," Felser said. "We want the copyright holder to feel good about it. Remember, a lot of this works because it's promotional. Sony is promoting the sale of their content in a way that's never been tried before."

Felser predicted that competitors may have trouble offering a similar service. He said that had Grouper not been part of Sony, the deal may not have ever gotten done.

Even as a unit of Sony, Grouper had to wait until it received the proper rights clearances, video from Sony's library was pulled, and contracts with actors and other creators were checked for clauses that may prevent such an offering.

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