IBM (NYSE:IBM) and NEC Corp. (Nasdaq:NIPNY) Wednesday announced they will pool their efforts at developing digital watermarks for movies distributed on DVD, the high-quality digital format now gaining ground among movie buffs. The two companies say they intend to submit their combined technology to the Copyright Protection Technical Working Group, in hopes their combined influence can make it a standard.
"We're doing this because it's taking a long time to set up the [watermarking] standard," said NEC spokesperson Kazuko Anderson. "This is the most effective technology to protect motion pictures and related multimedia."
A DVD disc fits an entire movie onto a single disc the size of a music CD, creating a lot of convenience for users, but a potential copyright-violation hazard for the movie industry.
The copy-protection now included on DVD focuses on stopping individuals from making copies, through encryption and scrambling.
Watermarking adds invisible coding to digital content -- such as a movie or even a video game -- that acts something like the serial number on a gun, allowing those with the appropriate equipment to identify illegal copies and possibly track them back to the source.
The technology could be a shot in the arm for the recordable DVD market. Right now, such technology is being held back by the concerns of such content companies as the big movie studios, who fear that thousands of perfect copies of their valuable Hollywood movies could be produced illegally.
The copy-protection now included on DVD focuses on stopping individuals from making copies, through encryption and scrambling. Watermarking would add the ability to catch illegal copies once they're made.
Once-only copying allowed
NEC and IBM plan to embed the watermarking system in chips that would be included in DVD consumer devices and PC DVD drives. The chip would detect watermarks, preventing users from making illegal copies or playing illegally copied discs.
The chip would, however, allow users to make a once-only copy, for example making it possible to record television programs.
"This is one of those things that have to be accomplished in moving DVD-RAM into the mainstream," said analyst Rob Enderle of Giga Information Group. "This issue is primarily one of the things limiting the proliferation of DVD technology."
He said the prominence of the two companies means their proposed technology could have a significant impact.
The copying problem is much more serious with DVD than with, say, CD-ROMs, Enderle explained, simply because of DVD's capacity: a single disc holds many times the amount of data of a CD-ROM.
And unlike with video tapes, the digital quality does not degrade after multiple generations of copies.
"They fixed one problem, which has created another problem," Enderle said. "The problem of unlimited copies."