New Anti-Piracy Software Uses Power of Suggestion

Audio watermark blocks playback of pirated movies and sends viewers to digital retailers to access titles legally

The power of suggestion is about to be deployed to combat film piracy.

Verance Corp., a developer of anti-piracy technology, introduced Cinavia Level 3, a new piece of software on Wednesday that determines whether a film has been illegally obtained and offers up legitimate digital movie services through which the film can be viewed.

The software, available only through devices that play Blu-rays, essentially uses an audio watermark that’s embedded in film soundtracks to distinguish between legitimate and unauthorized copies of content. If it determines a film has been illegally captured in a theater, ripped from a Blu-ray disc or DVD, for example, the player will block its playback and offer the viewer access to the film — often in a higher-quality format — through a digital retailer available on Blu-ray disc players, set-top boxes, mobile devices and personal computers.

The technology is meant to work alongside Verance’s existing Cinavia content protection system found inside 100 million Blu-ray disc players worldwide, including Sony’s PlayStation 3 videogame console. Cinavia was introduced as an optional component of Blu-ray disc players and recorders in July 2009 and its use became mandatory in February 2012, protecting more than 200 theatrical and home video motion picture releases from Universal, Sony, Fox and Warner Bros. since then.

In a demo presented by Verance, a copy of “Skyfall” that was recorded in a theater stopped during an action sequence and offered the chance to buy or rent the film via a connection to Amazon or iTunes.

While discussions have taken place, e-commerce sites have yet to sign up to start offering films through Verance’s technology.

Verance is pitching its new Cinavia Level 3 technology to Hollywood’s studios, digital content providers and electronics manufacturers as a way to further monetize the growing use of online video-on-demand services that sell and rent movies. It could prove especially popular among all three as they look to grow the use of digital storage locker UltraViolet.

While content owners would pay to license the software, hardware manufacturers will determine which online storefronts they will use. Apple, for example, would likely offer up only iTunes on its devices, while a Samsung would provide links to more retailers like Amazon and Vudu. Studios would collect a percentage of those sales as they currently do through the e-tailers.

The digital dollars could add up given that devices that utilize Cinavia’s technology are expected to block the playback of 157 million viewings of pirated movies in the U.S. this year, the company said.

“Our Cinavia Level 3 technology is the first content protection technology to offer direct benefits to device makers, digital distributors and studios, and the response has been extremely positive,” said Verance CEO Nil Shah. “It fosters a thriving ecosystem for paid digital content and, by delivering more compelling entertainment offerings, creates a seamless and penalty-free transition for casual consumers of pirated movies to the growing array of digital movie services.”

The Cinavia Level 3 technology was developed after a 2011 study commissioned by Verance indicated that more than a third of U.S. viewers of pirated films would accept a convenient, affordable offer to acquire content from a legitimate outlet when integrated into their preferred movie viewing device.

“The common misconception is you are either a pirate or you’re not,” said Joe Winograd, executive VP and chief technology officer of Verance. “In reality, there are many layers of gray. Research indicates over a third of people watching pirated films are not hardcore techies but responsible, high-performing individuals who believe it is socially acceptable to search for a ‘free’ movie on a search engine.”

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