Copyright battles ahead for 3-D TV?

Eye-popping 3-D television definitely left an impression on regulators at CES. alt

And an emerging practice of retrofitting regular 2-D content into a 3-D format could catch the eye of copyright lawyers in Washington.

Sony was showing a Jimi Hendrix concert that had been modified to appear three-dimensional. (At right, that's me and Communications Daily reporter Josh Wein at the Sony booth.)

If other studios plan on retrofitting old content, they could be tampering with that content's copyright. It's a similar problem studios faced when they added color to black-and-white movies.

After legal battles in the 1990s, a legal precedent was set that prevents the distribution or broadcast of a colorized version of a film against the wishes of the original content creator or heirs.

Similar battles could emerge in the 3-D space, lawyers who were at CES told me.

"Oh yes," said Chris Kelly, who is running for California Attorney General, when I asked him if copyright questions might be raised. Early in his career, he worked on MP3 copyright infringement cases.  "Those rights are there for a reason."

FCC Commissioner Rob McDowell said he's impressed with 3-D, but is skeptical about how quickly it would take off with consumers.

The biggest challenge is the expense: 3-D compatible TV sets cost more than $2,000, and consumers have to buy those goofy glasses for everyone sitting on the couch.

Currently, fewer than 1 million of the country's 115 million TV homes have a set that can show 3-D content, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. CEA estimates that 4.3 million 3-D compatible sets will be sold this year and they'll account for 25 percent of all TV sales by 2013.