20 September 2006
According to a news report from the VNU Technology New Web Site, plans are in place to embed chips able to track commercial DVDs that are purchased.
See the news story: DVD chips 'to kill illegal copying'
Reading between the lines raises a concern about what this is really trying to achieve. Will the chips really reduce piracy, or increase privacy.
Whilst it may be possible to have an RFID chip to check whether a disc is genuine, the absence of a RFID chip would not indicate anything. As far as the player is concerned the disc could be either a disc that predated the RFID chips (ie. every single DVD purchased so far), or a home DVD.
With the ability to record your own DVDs from camcorder footage, digital photos or your own home made animations then it is not possible for them to refuse to play home DVDs. Potentially any copied DVD could just be made to look like a home DVD and so it is not possible to use this to prevent piracy.
The second issue is the ability to restrict what region the DVD can be played in. Whether this is moral or justifiable is already a controversial subject. The main reason for restricting this is so that the movie industry can charge different prices for the DVDs in different places. Sounds like an opportunity to rip off those that are willing to pay more. The net result has not prevented DVDs playing in region, but for a while did prevent anyone from playing DVDs on Linux.
DVD discs are already encrypted to limit the what players they can be played on, and to restrict the use of the DVDs. The encryption was cracked by a high school pupil Jon Johansen. As a result the DeCSS code was developed which has allowed Linux users to be able to playback the DVDs. It is also now possible to decrypt the DVD and write it back to a blank DVD without any encryption so that it can be played on any player.
Even without being able to decode the discs many players have already allowed people to play DVDs from different regions. In some cases this needs a modification to the actual DVD player, but often it is just a case of buying a multi-region DVD player.
With so many companies selling mutli-region DVD players I can't see there being much of a market for more restrictive players.
If the idea is to be able to track the DVDs then what could they do with that information? Well potentially they could end up tracking who plays what DVDs, when how frequently and where they travel around the world. Whilst the RFID only has a fairly limited range the devices that could be reading the tags may well be Internet connected devices. Currently this could be using software on our computers, but in future could also include DVD recorders which have a web interface to allow you to configure your recording whilst at home.
Certainly something to keep a close eye on in future.