Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Watch where you watch

If a new scheme from Philips is taken up, watching a movie in the wrong country could land you in jail for 10 years or paying a $1 million fine.

Regional coding tries to stop people in Europe watching DVD movies released in the US and vice versa. But the technology has been hacked to shreds so people routinely watch discs intended for other parts of the world.

However, the movie industry has been far more proactive in preventing people from copying DVDs. Many governments have introduced powerful laws to prevent unauthorised copying, such as the US's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and similar laws are coming to Europe. Breaking these laws can lead to stiff fines and considerable jail sentences.

For the moment, regional coding is separate from the system designed to prevent copying. But Philips has come up with a cunning way to tie them together – by encrypting the regional coding in the same way that the movie itself is encoded.

That means the regional coding could only be broken down by tampering with the copy protection system, thereby unleashing the full power of the new laws.

Although it is probably too late to modify existing DVD discs and players, the copy-protection in the new Blu-ray and HD-DVD players has been specially designed so that it can be modified at any time in the future – without the owner even knowing it. The modification instructions are to be hidden in movie discs, so Hollywood could yet opt to adopt Philips’ new system.


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