Sean Parker is a prominent name in the history of online piracy.
The American entrepreneur co-founded the file-sharing application Napster, which popularized file-sharing with the public at large.
Parker later gained fame as the first president of Facebook which helped him to become the billionaire he is today. In addition to becoming a philanthropist, he also remains involved in new startups, including one with an indirect piracy angle.
Four years ago, Parker co-founded a new company called Screening Room, which envisioned making the latest blockbusters available in people’s homes on the day of release. For $50 per movie, people should be able to enjoy new movies on their own screens, instead of going to a movie theater, the plan went.
This home viewing option would not only be convenient but could also remove the incentive for some people – those who can afford it – to go out and pirate films.
Several key players in the movie industry were skeptical and today the plan has still not come to fruition. Nevertheless, the company remains active and recently rebranded to SR Labs, hiring former Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president Man Jit Singh as its new CEO.
With Singh, the company now has strong connections to the movie industry. And while the official site doesn’t reveal any news, the company did score a small victory this week after being awarded a new patent.
Screening Room’s New Anti-Piracy Patent
Over the past several years, Screening Room (SR Labs) has obtained several technology-related patents, including some with an anti-piracy angle. The new patent (pdf) granted this week sits in that same niche.
Titled: Pairing Devices to Prevent Digital Content Misuse, the patent describes a system where home access to movies can be tightly controlled. This includes pairing a phone or tablet to a TV and making sure that the viewer has all the necessary permissions throughout a broadcast.
The patent is filled with complex descriptions of how the system would operate and also comes with a dedicated anti-piracy strategy. For example, HDMI piracy will be prevented by disabling access to a movie when it’s no longer paired to the authorized TV.
In addition, the system comes with a dedicated piracy crawler that scours the web for pirated copies. When an unauthorized copy is detected, the system can use the embedded watermark to find the source and take appropriate action.
“When the web crawler identifies a film, it scans it for watermarks. If a match is found, the account that matches the ID found in the watermark can be held accountable and, if necessary, disabled,” the patent description reads.
The use of watermarks is not new and piracy groups have become very skilled at removing unique identifiers. However, Screening Room notes that its watermarks are pretty much tamper-proof.
“The watermark is persistent, invisible to the naked eye and irremovable without the destruction of the underlying image. A watermark thus operates as a digital beacon stitched into the fabric of the film,” the patent reads.
Polluting P2P Networks with Corrupt Files
The anti-piracy measures don’t stop there. With or without a watermark, a movie can still spread to millions of people. Screening Room has considered this as well and will use a “P2P polluter” to overwhelm pirate sites and services with corrupted copies.
“Once [a watermark] is detected outside of the content distribution network, the movie distribution system distributes corrupted files of the same film at a ratio of 1,000 to 1 via peer-based distribution. Therefore, immediately ‘diluting’ the infringement to a rate that would be extraordinarily frustrating, if not impossible, for further piracy of that copy to take place.”
The stringent anti-piracy tools may be a response to early critique from movie theaters, which claimed that Screening Room’s plans would fuel pirate sites.
P2P pollution is far from new and dates back to the days of Napster itself. While it can be effective, it does little to stop distribution through pirate streaming sites, which are much more popular today.
Screening Room’s plans are not completely new. In fact, the patent is a continuation of a similar filing that was submitted a few years ago, which focused on “sonic signals.” However, if anything, it shows that Screening Room is still planning to go ahead with its new movie distribution plans.
What these plans entail remains a mystery. When Variety questioned the company a few weeks ago it only revealed that it has over two dozen patents related to “innovative secure delivery architecture.” This week, they added yet another one to their list.
Screening Room plans to help the movie industry move forward and seeks cooperation. This was also reiterated by Parker, who highlighted that the industry has been hurt by the COVID-19 crisis while adding that “this too shall pass.”
“In the face of existential threats, it is only by summoning our greatest abilities — our collective creativity and innovative capacities — that we have not only survived, but also prospered,” Parker said.
“We need to work together to preserve the cinematic experience, not only for writers and filmmakers, but also for the moviegoing public, and for the benefit of future generations who have yet to experience the magic of cinema themselves.”