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Content-protection company Macrovision is expected to release a new DVD copy-protection technology Tuesday in hopes of substantially broadening its role in Hollywood's antipiracy effort.
The company is pointing to the failure of the copy-proofing on today's DVDs, which was broken in 1999. Courts have ordered that DVD-copying tools be taken off the market, but variations of the software remain widely available online.
Macrovision's new "RipGuard DVD" technology can prevent much of the copying now being done with those tools and can help bolster studios' DVD sales even if it's not perfect, company executives say.
"Encryption standards either work or they don't," said Adam Gervin, Macrovision's senior director of marketing, "Now the cat's out of the bag. (DVD sales) are going to be one of the main sources of revenue for Hollywood for a long time, so why leave billions of dollars on the table when you can do something about it?"
The company could be hard pressed to break into an arena of the content protection market that has historically been managed by companies or industry groups closely associated with the Hollywood studios themselves. However, studios have been deeply concerned by the failure of today's DVD copy protection and might be willing to experiment with an alternative if it proves practical.
The original DVD copy-protection tools--called Content Scramble System--was developed by a technology coalition that included studio representatives and is licensed by a groupwith close ties to Hollywood.
A new coalition, which includes Warner Bros. and the Walt Disney Company as well as powerful technology companies such as IBM, Sony, Microsoft and Intel, is working on a new content-protection technology for next-generation DVDs. That technology called the Advanced Access Content System, which is not designed for today's DVDs, is being designed to allow movies to be moved around a home though a digital network.
The group has said little about its progress since announcing the project last year, but companies involved have said they expect to have it ready in time for the first expected release of high-definition videos on DVD late in 2005.
Macrovision does have a longstanding relationship with studios, however. The company is responsible for the technique that makes it difficult to copy movies from one VCR to another, and it has updated that technique to help prevent copies of movies being made using the analog plugs on DVD players.
It's using a new version of that analog guard to create copy protection for video-on-demand services, and will be included in new TiVo devices and other set-top boxes beginning later this year.
The company's new product takes a different approach to antipiracy than it has taken for analog or audio CDs. Gervin said Macrovision engineers have spent several years looking at how various DVD-copying software packages work, and have devised ways to tweak the encoding of a DVD to block most of them.
That means the audio and video content itself requires no new hardware and isn't scrambled anew, as is the case with most rights-management techniques. Someone using one of the ripping tools on a protected DVD might simply find their software crashing, or be presented with error messages instead of a copy.
Macrovision's analog copy-protection business means that it receives pre-market versions of most major DVD players in order to test for compatibility, and it has been performing RipGuard DVD tests on these machines for months. As a result, the company says it is confident that discs encoded with its new product would be playable on all major DVD player brands and PC drives.
Gervin said that the technique would block most rippers, but not all, and could be easily updated for future discs as underground programmers find ways to work around RipGuard.
If adopted, the technology could be a welcome financial shot in the arm for Macrovision. The company has seen its revenues from DVD copy protection fall over recent quarters, and has increasingly been looking to other businesses to make up the shortfall.