Near-infrared LEDs set up behind theater screens

TOKYO — While increased vigilance and harsher penalties have yet to put a major dent in film piracy, a little bit of high-tech know-how just may do the trick.

Isao Echizen of the National Institute of Informatics, in cooperation with Sharp, a leading Japanese electronics maker, has devised a technology for foiling camcorder pirates at the theater, NII has announced.

Special near-infrared LEDs are set up behind the movie screen and turned on while a film is playing, beaming light through tiny holes in the screen. Pirates who record the pic with camcorders or other devices end up with an image spattered with red and green blotches. Viewers in the theater see nothing, since the light emitted by the LEDs is not in the range of the human visual spectrum.

Sharp aims to commercialize the technology within two or three years.

The Motion Picture Producers Assn. of Japan, or Eiren, estimates that pirates have trimmed 10%, or $220 million, off the $2.2 billion annual local B.O., while taking a similarly large chunk from the DVD biz. And pirates have been steadily improving the quality of their images with better equipment.

Eiren-affiliated theaters now run spots before every screening warning camcorder pirates of possible fines and prison sentences, but results have not yet lived up to expectations.

But there’s no doubt blotchy copies would be tough to sell.

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