Bootleggers beware

To deter recording in cinemas, Herndon, VA-based Cinea plans a two-year project to develop and test prototype technology for distorting unauthorised recordings of digital movies without affecting human visual perception of the original version.

The motion picture industry loses an estimated $3 billion annually due to piracy, and a large portion of that loss is attributable to people using camcorders to illegally record movies shown in theatres, and then duplicate the recordings for resale.

New digital cinema technology will create even more opportunities for piracy due to the higher quality of the recordings and the increasing ease of sending video files over the Internet.

These concerns have impacted the roll-out of digital cinema. Existing technologies can protect digital content only up until the time of presentation, or provide forensic information after piracy is discovered.

To deter recording in cinemas, Herndon, VA-based Cinea plans a two-year project to develop and test prototype technology for distorting unauthorised recordings of digital movies without affecting human visual perception of the original version.

Based on a previous feasibility study, the company will modify the timing and modulation of the light used to create the displayed image such that frame-based capture by recording devices is distorted. Any copies made from these devices will show the disruptive pattern.

The research will focus on generating the optical distortions, providing the tools to integrate them into digital video streams through production systems, adapting projector systems to recognise when to include distortion and what distortion to include. The company also plans to analyse the overall effectiveness of the system both qualitatively and quantitatively, and ensure that the technology cannot be defeated by removal of the optical disruptions from copied material.

Cinea plans to integrate its new technology with industry standard digital projectors but also will demonstrate that the approach can work on other platforms. Sarnoff Corporation will help out. It will conduct research on image manipulation and analyse the distortion and possible countermeasures. And for its part, the Entertainment Technology Centre at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles will evaluate the system.

Partial funding for the project will come from the US-based National Institute of Standards and Technology.

If successfully developed, the company believes that the technology could reduce piracy losses by at least 50%.

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