Switching from film-based to digital projectors in movie houses promises better quality for theatergoers. But it could also help Hollywood studios nab bootleggers.
Digital projectors can't stop people from recording movies, but they can allow studios to trace every illegal copy back to the specific time and theater where it was recorded. This capability is a requirement of the Digital Cinema System Specification -- the playbook for digital theaters in the United States and potentially worldwide.
This approach isn't entirely new. Studios often embed tracking information in prints. "They don't publicly talk about this," said Brad Hunt of the Motion Picture Association of America, "but it's a well-known fact that forensic watermarking is being used on theatrical release prints because that's how we can determine sources of piracy."
Data in prints, however, can only say what reel of film was copied. Because digital projectors add the information as the movie is playing, they can specify when the piracy occurred. "We now can actually extract the data that the content was rendered at 2 a.m.," said Hunt, giving a hypothetical example.
nature will find a way