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back to article Electro-optic film set to foil DVD shoplifters

For once here comes a digital protection technology designed to stop shoplifters rather than prevent consumers copying content. US-based Kestrel Wireless this week announced a plan to make DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs unplayable until they've been purchased. It's a simple scheme: each disc is coated with an electro-optic …

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Anonymous Coward

Oh great...

The amount of times I've walked out of a shop and the alarm has gone off because they haven't swiped the item properly...

But now, instead of an alarm going off, I get to sit down in the evening with my new DVD, which has a legitimate chance of not playing.

One ruined evening, one burnt customer. Bittorrent here I come.

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Sounds easy to defeat

There is nothing here to stop people from playing with one of these DVDs with varying pulses of electricity until they learn what will safely render the layer transparent. Then the hackers can just post the voltage on the Doom 9 forum. What a waste of money to develope, as well as outfitting retailers to support this.

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Battery & crocodile clips?

So an RFID chip processes a signal and sends out an electrical impulse that changes the film colour. Unless the film is some sort of nanotech-cum-nanomachine infested film, the film will react to either a plain electrical impulse or electrical field.

So when this protection device comes out, how long before the hoodies drag a 9v battery & crocodile clips along with their 9mm parabellum and activate the surface layer by pressing the clips onto the layer itself, bypassing the security chip?

An even lower tech version would involve a CD/DVD-resurface tool sold for aboutr 10 quid to remove scratches from disks that would remove the film layer... unless the layer is molded into the disk, whereupon you then add a needle to the end of each croc clip...

A good idea in theory, but to me, just like DRM, it seems impractical outside the lab because as soon as the technology is in the user's hands, ways will be found to circomvent it, just like audio/video DRM and the "disposable" "locked" digital cameras of a few years ago.

Cheers,

Daniel

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But

Who the hell buys CD's & DVD's in "physical" shops? Really? There are people out there with no internet access? Or Computers? Well, it serves them right then, Phillistines.

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Analog hole?

And what's to stop thieves from simply popping over to Radio Shack or similar and constructing a $3 device that applies the charge necessary to the substrate to make it transparent?

I suspect if they are clever they would simply bypass the RFID handshake bit altogether.

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Possible repercussions

Am I the only one who read this and immediately thought of that scene in _Fight Club_ where they use the bulk eraser to blank out an entire video rental store of tapes? Because if you were to, say, wander through the media section of your local store with an RFID disruptor going off in your pocket you could wreak a fair bit of havoc, and probably without anyone noticing until they went to purchase one of the damaged discs. Granted, theft is prevented, but there are quite a few people out there motivated as much by malice (or by a challenge, real or perceived) as by greed.

It seems likely, given the footprint of optical media, that the RFID device is passive - so a simple disruptor such as one made from a disposable camera ( http://events.ccc.de/congress/2005/wiki/RFID-Zapper(EN) ) would work fine. If not, then you have to get more sophisticated. Either seems well within the reach of bored, bright vandals.

All of this is giving them a fair amount of credit and assuming that the actual PKE system, along with the rest of the security system, is otherwise sound - not something I've come to expect from the entertainment industry in general.

All in all - A for effort, but I'll hold off on giving out a final passing grade until I see how well it holds up in the real world. Assuming the basic system holds up, it will probbly be a net benefit. However, the retailers should be prepared the possibility of a shift of threats as opposed to a mere elimination of lossage.

Daniel B.

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Anonymous Coward

If it aint broke....

I've got an even better idea! Why not just display empty cases and keep the actual disks locked up behind the counter. Why didn't anyone think of it before? Sounds like a solution desperately looking for a problem.

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Useful idea

A single pressing should be sufficient. Disks would be made protected by default and unprotected as late as possible in the distribution chain. So a small retailer could buy from a distributor and they would have the option of taking the DVD protected or unprotected. This way warehouse theft is also reduced.

However I wonder how long before El Reg is reporting that someone has cracked the mechanism with an old mobile phone, a coat hanger, and some sticky back plastic.

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Nothing more than a placebo

Who goes to a shop to steal data? Get with the times!

The irony is that the additional cost of administration and the hardware (and subsequent failure of) will encourage even more people to utilise P2P.

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Rob

What a great business model...

I'm really glad that instead of adapting to the changing market, the recording industry wastes more and more money on increasingly elaborate protection that alienates more and more customers all the time. It seems to me that there are only a few industries that can afford to force the customer to do what THEY want instead of providing something that ties in to the customer's expectations.

Heaven forbid they should spend some of that R&D money on something useful.

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Oh what a load of doom mongers

Of course this will work, it will use secure keys that won't be breakable - just like HD DVDs.

Oh, I guess there might be a problem then !

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Anonymous Coward

We're getting close......

It can't be long before they get this right. Put disc into player. Player goes online and verifies the disk key, its key, the key of your TV, the key of the shop / online store that you bought it from and that of the RFID chip in your cat against a database operated by the Russian Mafia in cahoots with the MPAA under license from the Daleks.

If any of these is moody / revoked / disliked / presumed pirated / lucky winner this week, the kilo of C4 in your player is set off.

Those BD players are waaayyyy too bulky for my liking......

:-)

TC

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Anonymous Coward

multiple points of failure

The coating is bound to reduce playability of the media, be susceptible to scratches, have a reduced lifetime, etc.

The coating is a simple bulk phase-change material, not an electronic system, so the whole verification process is optional. Big deal. Furthermore, since the phase change is in the direction of usability, you have an unlimited time to figure out how to do it once you've stolen the media.

Even if I can't figure out how to bypass the verification, can't I put 20 disks into the field to be cleared when I buy the 21st disk? Is it cheaper to slip the pimply-faced clerk a few bucks than to hack an irradiator?

All this mechanism does is ensure the market position of sleezy video shops in fencing stolen media. I just don't see the point.

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When it fails and goes black again...

... and you can't play your DVD ....

Anyone ever notice that the anti-theft devices that are "inactivated" to let exit without triggering the alarm -- become "active" again in a few days? So what happens when your DVD is made playable ... and it goes back to black again?

Oh, yeah! Then you have to go back to the store again! What a boon for the video stores!!

Can you say, DIVX?

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Disc Dr.

If it's a layer of film, surely a couple of runs in a scratch repairer will get rid if it...

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I wonder if these people

have ever bought something that needed to be activated before use by the geniuses that man checkouts (that's tills to those that speak English English).

Thanks, but no thanks, it's bad enough trying to get out of the store (shop) without being pestered to sign up for 20 magazine subscriptions and an extended warranty on my new Milkyway (Mars Bar).

Ever tried to return a DVD? And what do you think the reaction will be when you go to a store and say they forgot to activate my DVD? Maybe I'm a pessimist, but it seems to me that putting the activation process in the hands of people that can't count high enough to give proper change is a touch on the risky side.

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Defeatable != Useless

@Kimberly:

"There is nothing here to stop people from playing with one of these DVDs with varying pulses of electricity until they learn what will safely render the layer transparent. Then the hackers can just post the voltage on the Doom 9 forum. What a waste of money to develope, as well as outfitting retailers to support this."

There is nothing to stop someone from jimmying the lock on your car door either, or from busting in the window for that matter. So, do you leave your doors unlocked all the time?

The idea that something is pointless merely because there are ways around it, is just naive. The point isn't to make it impossible to steal (which I would say is ultimately impossible, anyway). The point is to make it harder for Billy the mischeivous schoolboy to score a quick five-finger-discount.

If you make it harder to steal, you decrease theft.

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How about...

Reducing the price of DVD's and CD's so that there is no point (or profit) in stealing/pirating. Get rid of all copy protection so consumers don't have compatibility issues with their legitimately purchased products, and most importantly, how about making movies that are worth buying copies. Just because a movie cost $300 million to make, doesn't mean it's any good.

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Silver badge

Who shoplifts DVDs anyway?

Whoever thought of this ingenious idea is missing one subtle, but nonetheless rather important, little pointette: nobody actually shoplifts DVDs!

In record stores, there are the usual passive RF devices on each of the cases. In supermarkets, which carry a smaller range, the cases are empty and an assistant, bringing the disc, is summoned when the barcode is scanned.

The only thing I can see this being any use in defeating is when people walk into a store with a laptop PC, open a DVD case, rip off the movie and leave with only a copy on their HDD ..... but that's just so obvious, I can't believe anybody actually does it. And it won't prevent store staff from secretly making copies in the stockroom, seeing as they already have access to the machinery for making the discs watchable.

If the activation device embedded in the disc fails (and it sounds like an overly-complicated scheme; we all know that complication is the horse on which failure rides into town), then the purchaser is denied the use of the disc they have bought and paid for. This is going to increase the cost to retailers (who, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, will be held responsible for replacing defective DVDs and will then have to try to recover the cost from the distributor). If the machine at the till which triggers the on-disc activation device fails, then the shop will be unable to sell any DVDs from that till. The result will be chaos. The combination of these two failure modes is likely to end up costing more than the shoplifting it was designed to prevent -- particularly since it won't even stop the little scrotes from nicking the discs, if all they want is just to annoy people.

Why can't the DVD industry learn from the printed media industry? Almost every bookshop and newsagent has a photocopier; yet you never see anyone using it to rip off newspapers, magazines or the latest "Harry Potter" novel. I hope I don't need to point out -why- this is the case.

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"Can you say, DIVX" .....

pffff, I use H264 :c)

Seems like Michael completely missed the point.

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