DRM: May 2007 Archives


May 9, 2007

OK, this is a clever countermeasure to DVD theft:
A chip smaller than the head of a pin is placed onto a DVD along with a thin coating that blocks a DVD player from reading critical information on the disc. At the register, the chip is activated and sends an electrical pulse through the coating, turning it clear and making the disc playable.

The radio frequency identification chip is made by NXP Semiconductors, based in the Netherlands, and the Radio Frequency Activation technology comes from Kestrel Wireless Inc., based in Emeryville.

Some obvious questions:

  • What's the incremental cost of production of a DVD with this chip in it? DVDs are incredibly cheap to manufacture, so even a few pennies are a significant increase in costs. And remember that while its the retailers who benefit from this technology it's the manufacturers who have to put it in. Will the retailers be willing to have the cost passed on to them?
  • There's a pretty substantial collective action problem. The retailers need to put the activators in, but it's of no value unless a substantial number of disks have it—and at least initially the clerks will forget to activate the disks when most don't need it and this means unhappy customers with broken disks. Similarly, the manufacturers won't put it in unless they see an advantage, which depends on the retailers activating it.
  • Is it really that hard to build or steal an activating unit? Typically ths stuff isn't cryptographically strong, it just relies on the obscurity of the design of the RFID activators. If so, you should expect to see bootleg activators. Obviously, a bootleg activator isn't useful for single-unit theft, but if you operate a DVD theft ring you can presumably afford one. Heck, can you just scrape off the coating with an x-acto knife?

Not saying it's not clever, though.


May 2, 2007