back to article IBM invents printer that checks for copyrights

IBM has filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a patent on a printer that checks for copyright violations. Big Blue's application describes a device that can check print jobs for text or images that have already been copyrighted, and then delete or block the infringing content from being printed. "The …

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  1. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    "often the technologies described never reach the market in any form."

    I sure hope so... DRM on the ink and toner-cartridges is bad enough as it is...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "often the technologies described never reach the market in any form."

      Quite so. I can't imagine why anyone anywhere would ever buy such a thing.

      From the customer's point of view, if it actually works as intended it's no better than an ordinary printer; paper in, ink splatter, paper out just like normal. So, what'd be the point?

      However, if (as seems highly likely) it's a screw up and deems your own picture of a sunset / nice view / picture of HM Queen Elisabeth to be oh-so-similar to this copyright picture over here in some other corner of the Internet when in fact it is one's own picture, then it's going to be a pain in the arse. Printing is annoying enough as it is without the goddamned printer taking it upon itself to not output parts of one's own page simply because some crummy program reckons you've half-inched it.

      The only way something like this would be marketable if there was an overriding legal reason for companies to have them. Whilst printed image piracy is no doubt is going on, it's nothing like as bad a problem as online image piracy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I can't imagine why anyone anywhere would ever buy such a thing.

        http://www.google.com/patents/US20060094518

      2. NotBob

        Re: "often the technologies described never reach the market in any form."

        People won't buy, institutions will. Then they can try to avoid sueballs (even imaginary ones) by claiming due diligence or something.

        1. 9Rune5

          Re: "often the technologies described never reach the market in any form."

          ...so if this newfangled drm printer misses a few copyrights, does that mean the potential sueballs moves on to the provider of the equipment?

          BTW: Is the printer manual copyrighted? Can I copy excerpts of the manual? Or will it be like a snake eating its own tail?

    2. captain veg

      Re: DRM on the ink and toner-cartridges is bad enough as it is

      I have a Lexmark (i.e. ex-IBM) printer whose driver software one day wanted to install an update. Conveniently there was a button to click to learn what the update did. This revealed that its purpose was to "prevent the use of unauthorised ink cartridges". Surprisingly enough, I declined to install it.

      -A.

  2. A Bee

    "Still, it is not hard to see a practical application for the copyright-conscious printers in environments such as libraries or schools, where administrators would seek to limit the possibility of infringement from users wanting to print out partial or entire works."

    Except that in UK schools, for example, there is a blanket licence to print limited extracts from copyrighted works, so the printer would need to know the length of the extract in relation to the length of the whole work.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Also, how do I tell the printer that I have licensed a particular work and therefore am allowed to print it?

    2. gumbril

      That reminds me - about 30 years ago, our music teacher sent us to the library to copy a sheet of music. We had the phrase "One copy for the purposes of private study" drilled into us". I seem to remember it all went a bit Pete Tong when I was sent to get a copy for everyone in the class, thus triggering the guardian of the photocopier "It's one copy for private study, it's just there's a lot of us", followed not long after by a Music Teacher vs Librarian show down, which is a little bit uncomfortable, as they we're not very good at showing down. I put it down to lack of experience. I think technology would have made the librarian happier - "Computer says No" is a lot easier than "Thou shalt not pass". Music Teacher won IIRC

      1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

        @gumbril

        Music Teacher vs Librarian show down

        It must have been like the gunfight at the O.K. Corral

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Music Teacher vs Librarian show down

          More like this:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bu69cnv0iU

    3. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      How Much Is Too Much?

      ...in UK schools, for example, there is a blanket licence to print limited extracts from copyrighted works...

      It is that way here as well. It's called "fair use." As this is a very common exception in academic settings, I cannot imagine there would be much uptake there, even if IBM gave these printers away.

      Where I can see this sort of tech might be of some actual benefit is in corporate settings as part of a document management system. If you have restricted the ability to copy files to USB drives and blocked sending them out via email, it would be pretty lame for someone to be able to simply print them out on paper and walk out the door with them in that form.

  3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    WTF?

    Won't sell may of these

    I can't imagine anyone buying a printer that would do this. The nuances of copyright are extremely complex.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Won't sell may of these

      They won't sell any because they won't make any.

      Nonsense or economically unviable patents are filed every day just to claim the territory, but won't make it to prototyping.

      1. asdf Silver badge

        Re: Won't sell may of these

        >Nonsense or economically unviable patents are filed every day just to

        give lawyers billable hours which is why its lawyers who also write the crappy laws that encourage wait for it, yet more billable hours to sort anything out.

      2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

        Re: Won't sell may of these

        > but won't make it to prototyping.

        The good news is that the patent stops anyone else prototyping it as well.

      3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Won't sell may of these

        If it is unviable then it is hard to see how the method could be "patent", in the original sense both of the word and the notion of patent protection. The fact that it is even possible to file this patent shows that the system is broken. As earlier comments have suggested, determining whether you have the right to print a document is clearly so far beyond the capabilities of even humans, let alone artificial intelligence, that this is the moral equivalent of patenting a perpetual motion device.

      4. It wasnt me

        Re: Won't sell may of these

        This is why if you're not making anything and profiting from a patent you hold, is should be torn up and thrown in the bin. Preventing someone else from doing something you don't want to / can't be arsed to is monumentally pointless.

        Patent applications should be accompanied by a working prototype. They should then be reviewed periodically to asses their ongoing utility.

    2. Omar Smith
      Big Brother

      Re: Won't sell may of these

      In the future it'll be illegal to own a printer that doesn't come with a Copyright Infringement Prevention device. Besides it sounds like great way of spying on the population, when everything you type is sent back to Minitrue head office. The Staatssicherheit could have only dreamed of such technology.

      1. oiseau
        Big Brother

        Re: Won't sell may of these

        Exactly.

        > In the future it'll be illegal to ... (fill in)

        This is utter bollocks.

        Why don't they use all this R&D money (I'm sure they have spens lotsa ... ) on something more productive?

        Simple enough:

        Because 'copyright' is not what's behind it.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Won't sell may of these

      Don't be so sure.

      There is prior art.

      Try printing dollar or Euro bills on a high class color laser printer (something that can print a realistic enough replica) or try to copy them on a color copier. They probably no longer do that on the low end SOHO kit, but the high end proper office kit still has it.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: prior art

        Puh-leeze, Mr Hand. That's *one* document, precisely specified and stored locally on the device. If IBM are contemplating building a printer that already contains all possible copyrighted document images then I will eat my words, my hat, and probably all my toner cartidges just for the LOLs.

        1. Laurent

          Re: prior art

          It isn't "one document". First, it's more than a single currency, on our Ricoh, it does it with several, like US dollars, and others.

          Then, the Euro bills were recently updated, their picture and color being substantially modified, and yet, it still recognizes them, without an update.

          1. Groaning Ninny

            Re: prior art

            The recognition system's the same - look closely and you'll see the five dot pattern there somewhere.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EURion_constellation

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: prior art

            It isn't "one document". First, it's more than a single currency, on our Ricoh, it does it with several, like US dollars, and others.

            Then, the Euro bills were recently updated, their picture and color being substantially modified, and yet, it still recognizes them, without an update.

            That's why I use proper intaglio printing for all my counterfeit needs.

          3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: prior art

            "Then, the Euro bills were recently updated, their picture and color being substantially modified, and yet, it still recognizes them, without an update."

            That's because the almost invisible yellow dot pattern the scanner/printer is looking for has not changed. Google it and be amazed.

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Won't sell may of these

        It detects the Eurion Constellation, an arrangement of circles that many banknotes from around the worl feature. If you made your own vouchers with that feature, it wouldn't print those either.

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Bad ideas etc.

    Still, it is not hard to see a practical application for the copyright-conscious printers in environments such as libraries or schools...

    It's also not hard to see the practical application of vans with air-tight compartments at the back into which the exhaust pipe, rather incongruously, opens.

    That doesn't mean that any of these are particularly good ideas.

    (As an aside, said vans were apparently a Soviet invention, though history does not record whether they were patented, although it DOES record that the inventor, one Isay Berg, got purged by the purge he himself so enthusiastically supported)

  5. Terry 6 Silver badge

    What's to patent

    I know this happens all the time, but allowing a patent on a vague idea, rather than an actual working device seems to be absolute lunacy. - even with pretty pictures this is no more than a pipe dream.

    "Hey guys - wouldn't it be good if we had a machine that....." *

    At best this sort of patent is bonkers.

    At worst it allows someone can't or won't to block someone who can design a device.

    Imagine telling the first 'plane designers that they can't do that because "we already thought it would be a good idea and got the patent. No, we don't know how, but that's beside the point."

    *Irrespective of whether this copier is a good or bad idea.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's to patent

      The moment lawyers became involved in the patent process it was the beginning of the end of real patents where you had to have a working model to support your claim.

      The patenting of ideas is a travesty being lead by the US patent office backed by lawyers and marketing droids and because of this it should be disbanded or, at least, returned to the issuing of real patents backed by actual working objects.

  6. James 51 Silver badge

    Need to buy a few more bottles for my Epson ecotank.

  7. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  8. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "Oh darn, this document won't print."

    Clicks icon which converts text to image, then prints it.

    The USB cable grumbles about having to carry extra bits.

    "Oh darn, this image won't print."

    Inverts colours on image. Inverts colours in print driver. Then prints it.

    This would be as effective as disabling the right click Copy option. Which is to say, not at all.

  9. Dave Harvey

    Before dismissing to quickly....`

    Remember that most scanners/copiers sold in the last few years already have similar (if much more constrained) technology in place for identification of banknotes (the so called EURion constellation) - and they managed to get this rolled out behind everyone's back without even acknowledging its existence.

    1. Mongo

      Re: Before dismissing to quickly....`

      Fair point on possible secrecy, but regarding feasibility EURion is the business of recognising one (or few) known images that are designed for easy recognition, versus trying to recognise everything under every circumstance. Of course if an unstable best effort is good enough than here's "return (bool) (rand() & 1);" and we'll go to the pub already...

  10. Richard Plinston Silver badge

    IBM Invents

    It is not an 'invention', it is merely a very poor idea.

    Anyone who wants to print copyright material would just use a different printer.

    1. Not That Andrew

      Re: IBM Invents

      I suspect it's more to prevent someone else patenting it. Remember that IBM (unsucessfuklly IIRC) tried to patent patent trolling not long after it became a major business.

  11. Codysydney

    But IBM don't still make printers, do they?? I thought that got splintered off to Lexmark.

    1. Groaning Ninny

      They might not make printers, but they still create IP....

      1. nijam Silver badge

        > They might not make printers, but they still create IP....

        Time to replace the (observably-false) claim that IP stands for "intellectual property". Leaving aside that it was a meaningless phrase in the first place, can we all agree it now stands for "idiotic posturing"?

  12. Mongo

    "A wizard did it" - again

    Here's the real meat of the copyright verification, from Fig 2 where the "copyright infringement prevention program" is laid bare (in a goddamn flowchart):

    #216 - Identify potential copyrighted materials from file

    #222 - Search online resources for identified potential copyrighted materials

    And that's it! All the complexity of doing this (imagine even describing to a smart human how to do this task, let alone making a useful algorithm for it) blithely ignored. In fact there are about six other paragraphs revolving around the "revolutionary" idea of looking for a match in a cache of previous evaluations, i.e. "prior art since forever", i.e. "the only bit of this idea we understand well enough to have a hope of actually doing"

    It's truly "underpants gnomes" stuff. The best explanation I have is that IBM prides itself on the patent output and provides big incentives to its staff ("have some cash" or maybe just "keep your job") , so the patent mill is cranking and gold or fools gold, in it all goes...

    1. glen waverley
      Mushroom

      Re: "A wizard did it" - again

      Mongo "All the complexity of doing this (imagine even describing to a smart human how to do this task, let alone making a useful algorithm for it) blithely ignored. "

      At a place I used to work at, we called this "design by waving your arms around". As in sitting in the design sessions and the person up the front with the whiteboard marker would just make a sort of whirly-hand gesture and draw a swirly box.

      Icon cos that's what this technique normally did to delivery schedule.

    2. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      Re: "A wizard did it" - again

      You all seem to be ignoring the 10 ton elephant in the room: Watson. Embedded instance with rules for fair use, license tallies, essentially an on-site copyright lawyer. And you can bet the IP lawyers haven't given a thought that direction. <evil grin>

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: "A wizard did it" - again

        Watson is a party trick, it's far more human curated database than AI.

        Essentially it's a clever interface to a database.

  13. John Tserkezis

    Why don't they take the Iraqi stance?

    You know, create a printer that doesn't print at all, just in case the user tries to print some copyrighted material.

  14. kain preacher Silver badge

    The only use I could see for this is to prevent internal docs from being printed.

    1. Mongo

      Effective existing tech for that

      Set the paper size to "US Letter" (in Europe) or "Japan M4" (in USA), then either (a) simple user gives up in frustration or (b) sophisticated user is beaten to death by horde of simple users when they go to the halted printer to clear the error

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Effective existing tech for that

        Set the paper size to "US Letter" (in Europe) or "Japan M4" (in USA), then either (a) simple user gives up in frustration or (b) sophisticated user is beaten to death by horde of simple users when they go to the halted printer to clear the error

        That doesn't work too well if using a Postscript printer set to automatically resize.

        It also doesn't work with some PCL printers that also support page resizing.

        There is also differences to be considered between Page printing and Document printing.

        Inkjets are not used in most offices nowadays but when they are they are usually for more specialist work. Inkjets have a far wider colour space than laser printers.

        But inkjets on the whole dont print as page or document printers but as line/print buffers.

        As regards copying bank notes it is one of the reasons that early colour laser copier machines did not support double sided printing. They also had the ability to remember in service codes when and what was scanned in and the engineers working on them were duty bound to notify the authorities if they found one being misused.

        That was in the days when the machines were extremely expensive. Nowadays they are almost 2 a penny in comparison and the technology in them has progressed considerably.

        At one point of time EFI (Electronics For Imaging?) earned more money per employee than any other listed company. So they made their money from the systems even if the user couldn't!

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Effective existing tech for that

          "They also had the ability to remember in service codes when and what was scanned in and the engineers working on them were duty bound to notify the authorities if they found one being misused."

          Yer what? Back when I "did printers", I was never informed of that or asked to check "the logs" or peep through the HDD contents to see what our customers were up to. In fact, doing that would be strictly verboten unless there was a very specific reason to examine the HDD contents. If it was an MoD or other government site, the HDD would normally be removed and retained if the printer was to be taken off site and a full factory reset performed. In some MoD sites all the PCBs had to be removed and destroyed on site if it had been used in any restricted areas in case any "secret" data had been hidden away in NVR or EEPROMS.

          As seen in a previous On Call article, service engineers should NEVER look through a users data unless specifically instructed and authorised to.

  15. Tim99 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    I'll probably be locked-up for this

    ...But for a PDF that you can read on a screen the non-techy version is screen copy, or for the rest of us:-

    pdfclean LockedFile.pdf UnlockedFile.PDF (page ranges) - works fairly well...

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