IBM files patent for anti-pirate printer

Will printers of the future stop us printing copyrighted material without permission?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

IBM has filed an interesting patent which, if approved, could result in the commercial production of printers which would stop us printing any text or images belonging to copyright holders.

As reported by TorrentFreak, Big Blue's latest patent application is for a printer which prevents the user from printing material from copyrighted sources -- such as books, photography or academic text extracts -- unless they have permission to do so.

While the battle between copyright holders and torrent search websites such as The Pirate Bay -- a place to find links to pirated material including television shows, films and games -- wages on, little thought has been given to other sources of potential copyright abuse.

Strictly speaking in the UK, for example, you can print copyrighted works, such as books, 70 years after publication. If this time hasn't passed, you are limited to a small percentage of a text.

As a former teacher, I can say this small percentage was outrightly ignored by myself and other staff, who used text extracts in the classroom for educational purposes. We were not alone, with millions of people worldwide printing off copyrighted material without necessarily having the right to do.

In order to counter the issue, IBM has filed a patent for a printer which double-checks files for copyright infringement before printing anything.

The printing patent, called "Copyright Infringement Prevention," was filed 12 May. The goal of the patent is to push forward printer restrictions to stop wholesale printing of copyrighted material, and instead, the device would potentially check an external database when a print job is filed.

This database would contain information indicative of whether a file is copyrighted or not, and whether the user has permission to print it -- and potentially would assist the user in gaining permission, which in itself is often a difficult process.

The patent description reads:

"The computer, in response in response to identifying any text, images, or formatting indicative of potential copyrighted material, identifies potential copyrighted material within the file.
The computer determines whether the file may be printed based, at least in part, on the identified potential copyrighted material."

If any of the text, images or formatting is prohibited, the print job simply would not go ahead.

Credit: US patents

It's unlikely that a printer which restricts freedom would ever appeal to the consumer market. However, the device could certainly have a home in the enterprise, where copyright infringement can place businesses in hot water, and restricting employees on what they can and cannot print is important.

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