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Content recognition, part 2

Movielabs_logo As I mentioned in my last post, the MPAA and MovieLabs' tests of 12 content-recognition technologies found several that performed quite well in the lab. According to information released at a joint MPAA-University of California event last week, seven of the technologies correctly identified at least 80% of the test files, and three got better than 90% right with no false positives. But several speakers at the event predicted that the technologies would prove much more useful for distributing content than for blocking it.

The event was designed to explore how colleges and the entertainment industry could work together to address piracy. Again and again, speakers opined that making content easier to get legitimately, rather than trying to make it harder to obtain illegitimately, was the best way to combat illegal downloading. Fingerprinting can be used for either purpose, but it's most effective when used to track usage online and determine what royalties are owed. For example, panelists from AT&T Labs and USC talked about the prohibitive expense and/or intrusiveness of examining every bit of traffic flowing across large networks, which is what a network operator would have to do if it was using fingerprints to deter unauthorized file-sharing.  "You don't look inside what people are doing unless there's a legitimate reason to do so," said Marty Loman, vice president of content protection at AT&T Labs. "You have to narrow down who you're going to look at."

Fingerprinting and DRM techniques will drive students away if they make it harder to consume what they want on the devices they want to use, several speakers warned. Ashwin Navin, president of BitTorrent Inc., put it this way: "If demand exists for content in a certain model, it will be fulfilled. The question for rights holders is, do we want that demand fulfilled legally or do we want that fulfilled illegitimately?" Added UCLA student Colin Iberti, "To put things on your iPod is very important to the college demographic. Not any other MP3 player, but iPods specifically." The authorized content that colleges offer typically uses a DRM not compatible with iPods, and "it really alienates the 98% of us who want to put it on their iPods."

In sum, the MPAA and MovieLabs' comments about fingerprinting technology had to be encouraging to copyright owners that are looking to boost online revenue. But if the speakers at the Universal City Hilton were right, fingerprinting won't be a silver bullet for copyright holders eager to kill the online bootlegging beast.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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