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Tuesday, November 16, 2004



The PIRATE EYE system was reported this week on "Marketplace", as well as on "The Business" -- an excellent new show on KCRW (89.9fm in LA) that does for the Entertainment industry what Marketplace does for Business (i.e., cover with style, humor, and smart hosts).

The Pirate Eye device was recently tested successfully in Hollywood. (I wonder if it was at a screening of "Pirates of the Caribbean"; if not, these folks are irony-challenged.) Their software algorithm, according to the radio reports, can create an image that shows all pirate cams in a movie audience, with a box around each camera that is taping the film. Sounds like a boon to the film industry, which is scared to death that piracy will kill off sales, as it arguably has in the music industry. Large file sizes for films make downloading movies a hassle for many users TODAY, but as we all know, increased PC speed and bandwidth makes it only a matter of time before this takes a matter of minutes.

Will privacy advocates balk at forcing audience members to have their picture taken every time they shell out ten bucks to watch a flick? A Pirate Eye rep said during the story that "the only time an image is taken is when a camera is detected". Still, there are sometimes false positives, such as when certain cellphones set off the device (they should call this a "cellphoney"; you can use it guys, it's on me). Although I imagine these bugs might get worked out as the program's design is refined and tested further, the process of installing, using and maintaining these devices across an entire theatre chain won't be cheap -- and its potential success at stopping film pirates must be weighed against the cost of piracy.

In other words, like many touchy issues today, it comes down to PIRACY vs PRIVACY.

A possible compromise mentioned during the show: use dummy systems at some theatres, and real anti-piracy systems in others. Or here's an idea I had (again, it's on me): post several large stickers or banners that you can't avoid seeing on the way into the theatre, which warn potential tapers of the consequences as well as the success rate of Pirate Eye -- kinda like warning stickers on cars that brag about an alarm that is not really there. Or, up on the walls, tape photos of tapers who were caught taping. Or do all these things. Ah, the fine art of deterrence. I doubt most tapers, seeing all these warnings, will take the risk that a theatre is only bluffing -- but then again, poker IS the hot sport on TV these days. (Did I say SPORT? Wow, now I'm falling for their hype too...)

For questions or comments about this Pirate Eye segment, or The Business show in general, you can email them at thebusiness@kcrw.org; segments should be archived at www.kcrw.com.

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