Digital watermark to stop cinema pirates

It may be all Japanese now, but the new digital watermark system could see cinemas punished for the actions of their customers

Japan's equivalent of the BBC - Japan Broadcasting, or NHK - has teamed up with Mitsubishi Electric to create an anti-piracy system that it hopes will put a stop to movie copying from cinemas.

The unnamed technology is aimed specifically at 'pirates' who take a camcorder into cinemas to shoot a copy of the film for distribution online. Such 'cams', as the copies are known in file-sharing circles, are typically of extremely low quality, as they include background noise in the cinema and periodic interruptions from anyone walking in front of the camera.

Finger pointing

Still, NHK and Mitsubishi consider the cam copier enough of a threat to have proposed the new system, which adds a watermark to films shown from a digital projector. The watermark includes specifics on the name of the cinema and even what time the screening was held.

Should a copy of the film turn up online, the system then reveals exactly which cinema it came from, although neither company involved has yet made suggestions about the next step.

What's it all about?

Quite how the watermark is expected to deter cam copiers is unclear, so perhaps cinemas will be punished by movie distributors in some way, possibly by being excluded from future releases. More likely, it is aimed at stopping the handful of cam copies that are made from the projectionist's booth.

Either that, or we'll have to register our personal details when watching a movie so that we can all be hauled in for questioning when some sad individual decides to videotape Spider-Man 7 or whatever masquerades as entertainment when this sees the light of day.

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.