Startups Use Spy Cameras and Audio Tech to Stop Film Piracy

Two San Diego startups, Verance Corporation and PirateEye, have developed technologies to prevent and reduce media piracy. PirateEye uses cameras in theaters to scan for illegal recording, while Verance uses an audio watermark to determine if a video on a Blu-ray player is legitimate, and gives purchase options if the disc being played is a pirated version. Both Verance and PirateEye have received funding from film studios for their projects.

The Verance Corporation has developed an audio watermark in films that will signal to Blu-ray players that a film it plays has been recorded illegally. After playing for 20 minutes, the film will stop and prompts the viewer with choices to continue watching legally, through legitimate sources such as with Amazon or Netflix.

The watermark verification process is already present on more than 100 Blu-ray players. Recent films such as “Pacific Rim” and “Despicable Me 2” have the audio watermarks, and more than half of last year’s top 50 highest ­grossing films featured it.

This is one of several technologies that may be used to combat piracy. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has said that the film industry is losing billions in yearly sales on account of piracy.

PirateEye uses a collection of cameras installed above a theater screen that will detect recording devices pointing at the screen from the audience, and alert theater security. The system was adapted from sniper detection technology used by the military.

The camera system scans for devices that reflect a light pattern such as cameras and mobile phones. It is estimated the technology has nabbed about a dozen offenders, according to Brian Dunn, chief executive of FPSI Inc., which owns PirateEye.

The MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America favor a “six strikes” program supported by Internet service providers that take an increasing aggressive series of legal moves to block Web access for repeat pirates, explains The Wall Street Journal.

“The kind of work [Verance and PirateEye] are doing to develop technological solutions is exactly the kind of work that we think needs to be done to combat this problem,” said an MPAA spokesperson.