Sony Patents Anti-Piracy Blacklist for Smart TVs and Media Players

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Sony is patenting a technology that can detect and blacklist pirate apps on media players and smart TVs. Through the use of monitoring software, third-party applications sideloaded onto these and other devices can be blocked, effectively protecting rightsholders against online piracy.

Over the past several decades, Sony has established itself as a leading player in the technology, music, film, and gaming industries.

The Japanese company hasn’t shied away from taking on the competition, but one adversary has proven particularly difficult to overcome; piracy.

Sony recognized this threat early on. At the Americas Conference on Information Systems in 2000, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s U.S. senior vice president Steve Heckler declared an all-out attack on piracy.

Whatever It Takes…

Responding to the Napster threat, which had just reached its peak, Heckler promised to take aggressive steps to tackle the online scourge.

“We will develop technology that transcends the individual user. We will firewall Napster at source — we will block it at your cable company, we will block it at your phone company, we will block it at your ISP. We will firewall it at your PC,” Heckler said.

This wasn’t an exaggeration. In the years that followed, Sony rolled out some rather aggressive technology, most notably the software exposed in the DRM rootkit scandal. After affecting millions of people, a mass recall of infected CDs and several class action lawsuits ensued.

Fast forward more than two decades and Sony is still fighting online piracy. The company hopes that cloud technology will eventually defeat piracy in the gaming sector, but on the video entertainment side, blocking may still be required.

As Heckler envisioned at the start of the century, Sony has since obtained various blocking orders around the world, requiring ISPs to block subscriber access to pirate sites. More recently, this effort was expanded to DNS resolvers with Sony’s lawsuit against Quad9.

Anti-Piracy Blacklist Patent

Interestingly, a new patent application suggests that Sony’s blocking vision is not limited to Internet providers. Once again, the company also wants to gain blocking powers on people’s media devices, including smart TVs.

The proposed patent, titled “Anti-Piracy Control Based on Blacklisting Function,” describes a technology to ban third-party applications that allow users to access pirated content. These illicit apps will be detected on consumer hardware through the use of monitoring software, which in turn will form part of an operating system.

“The monitor application has system privileges to examine the code and execution of the third-party application installed on the electronic device,” Sony writes.

sony blacklist patent

Banning Pirate Apps

Sony details several scenarios where the patent can be useful, including one where streaming devices allow users to install unvetted apps. Another envisions intervention when people try to sideload apps that are banned by official stores such as Google Play.

“Some of these third-party applications may include pirate applications that may acquire content from rogue websites to stream pirated content onto the streaming device,” the patent description reads.

“In such scenarios, the pirate applications may provide premium content to the streaming device without authorization, and may subvert the services of legitimate content providers,” Sony adds.

The full patent application goes into detail on various techniques the monitoring software could use to detect and block apps. Monitoring external network sources accessed by apps, for example, or directly inspecting an app’s code.

Whether Sony is actually working on a project to be rolled out in the real world is unknown. However, the patent clearly shows that online piracy has yet to be ‘rooted’ out so it remains a serious concern for the company.

A copy of the patent application titled “Anti-Piracy Control Based on Blacklisting Function” is available here (pdf)


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