Studios consider new anti-piracy technology to protect awards screeners

SUNDAY, JULY 4, 2004

LOS ANGELES — The organization behind the Academy Awards is eyeing new technology to prevent a sequel to last year’s embarrassing attempt to protect films by not distributing them to Oscar voters at all.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has endorsed a plan to distribute about 6,000 special DVD players to members. Specially encrypted discs, known as screeners, would be earmarked for a specific academy voter and would play only on that person’s machine.

“It’s extremely impressive,” said academy President Frank Pierson. “It certainly looked foolproof to us.”

The player also would imprint an invisible watermark on the disc each time it is viewed. In addition, if someone uses a camcorder to tape the movie as it is playing on a monitor, that image would contain information on the person assigned the machine.

Several studios said they were considering participating in the effort, but no studio has made a formal commitment.

Similar watermarking technology used last year on lower-quality videocassettes helped authorities track and convict an Illinois man who had obtained screeners from an academy member and duplicated hundreds of illegal copies for sale.

The success of that effort led Cinea Inc., a division of Dolby Laboratories, to approach the academy about a combination of encryption and watermarking so studios could once again distribute screeners on DVDs.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents studios, last year banned the distribution of screener DVDs and videotapes over concerns about bootlegging. Many of the screener copies are of films that are in movie theaters or are still unreleased.

The studios later changed the policy to allow the shipment of encoded videocassettes to Academy Award voters only. A federal judge, however, granted a temporary injunction lifting the screener ban in a lawsuit brought by independent production companies, which argued the policy put them at a disadvantage for awards.


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