11:42 PM

DVD Group Hits Stalemate Over 'Watermark' Security Feature

The DVD Copy Control Association has hit a stalemate in its efforts to adopt watermarking technology, a key enabler for letting users make so-called managed copies of DVD content for use on multiple personal devices or over a home network.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The consortium responsible for DVD security has hit a stalemate in its efforts to adopt watermarking technology. Watermarks are seen as a key enabler for letting users make so-called managed copies of DVD content for use on multiple personal devices or over a home network.

The issue came to light in testimony Wednesday (March 28) at the non-jury trial of startup Kaleidescape Inc. versus the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA). The DVD CCA claims Kaleidescape's media server breeches its license to the Content Scramble System (CSS), letting its users make copies of rental disks.

In its defense, Kaleidescape said the DVD CCA has failed to provide a mechanism to identify and protect rental disks, something the startup said would be technically easy to do. Testifying in rebuttal, John Hoy, president and secretary of the DVD CCA, said the consortium has been investigating watermarks since 2001 without finding a solution.

The consortium of movie studios, PC makers and consumer electronics companies first organized a committee to study watermarks in 2001. It got several responses to public calls for video watermarking technologies and opted to study two of them.

"The technical committee raised questions about the stability and maturity of the technologies that were presented," said Hoy in his testimony.

In addition, the study found watermarking "would add considerable costs to DVD replication and playback in the form of circuitry to detect the watermark. As I recall the total estimate to the industry was about $100 million," Hoy said.

A second study on watermarks found the technologies readily hackable. "The study showed through a fairly minor transformation of the data as it went through the detection circuitry the reader would not find the watermark," Hoy testified.

After "extensive deliberationsincluding one session that ran well after midnight," the DVD CCA board voted in the summer of 2002 not adopt watermarks, Hoy reported.

However, the consortium commissioned a new group called the Watermark Next Steps committee in early 2005. The WMNS group decided to study audio watermarks, and is still active today, but it has hit a road block, Hoy said.

"The committee has not been able to come to a conclusion because the responders put confidentiality requirements on their information," he said.

Many WMNS committee members are drawn from companies that have their own internal watermark technologies and as such cannot accept disclosures of confidential information on such products from competitors without becoming "contaminated," Hoy said. "It's a shoot-the-engineers problem," he quipped.

Several proposals for maintaining confidentiality have been made to the committee, but none have been acceptable to all members so far. Members have decided that to outsource an analysis of the technologies would be a violation of their fiduciary responsibilities.

"A lot of people are working very hard on this," Hoy said.

A video watermark could be used to track piracy. It could also carry data about what digital rights are available for users wishing to make a controlled copy of the disk. It's not clear whether an audio watermark would be able to carry similar digital-rights data.

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