It Could Be the Next Breakthrough Technology for Protecting Copyrighted Content Against Piracy

Researchers from the Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC) at UCLA are working on a new radio frequency identification application that in the not-too-distant future could allow consumers the luxury of watching the latest theater blockbuster at home – while also blocking the ability of would-be wrong doers to pirate the lucrative digital content.

Led by UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science professor Rajit Gadh, the group is exploring the use of radio frequency identification technology, known as RFID, as a tool for digital rights management in an effort to protect DVD content against unauthorized use.

RFID technology allows data to be transmitted by a product containing an RFID tag microchip, which is read by an RFID reader. No contact or even line-of-sight is needed to read data from a product that contains an RFID tag. The transmitted data can provide identification or location information about the product, or specifics such as date of purchase and price.

The UCLA research group is developing the software and hardware components of a system that would embed DVDs with an RFID tag and insert an RFID reader in DVD players. Tagged DVDs would theoretically then play only in RFID-enabled players that can authenticate the DVD’s tag. Viewers without an RFID-enabled player won’t be able to view the content because the tag essentially locks the disc – meaning copyright owners such as film production companies would have secure digital rights management over the work.

“We’re in the very early stages of this project, the first research stage. We have the different pieces of the technology and a pretty good idea of how it’s going to fit together. But right now we’re examining whether this technology is really feasible,” says Gadh. We should begin to publish research reports on the project during the next few months or so.”

As for widespread use of the technology should it prove viable, any commercial application would have to be developed by film production companies, manufacturers of DVDs and DVDs, or other relevant players in the industry, says Gadh. “Essentially, we are creating the technology for someone else to create the business, if they want to. I believe consumers will be interested in purchasing RFID DVDs and players if it means being able to watch the most current movies at home.”

As far as reducing piracy, Gadh doesn’t hold any illusions. Current estimates from the Motion Picture Association of America show that the U.S. film industry now loses more than $3 billion annually in potential worldwide revenue due to piracy alone.

“I don’t know if our endeavors will reduce piracy, but we could very well create a market where one doesn’t yet exist,” shares Gadh. “And we’re researching just one technology that can be used for this application. I’m sure there are others out there that could also be used.”

The professor says WINMEC is incorporating input it gets from contacts in film, television and the music industry in the Los Angeles area as it develops a number of projects with multimedia applications.

In fact, WINMEC, which holds regular forums for interested industry partners and individuals, will host its next conference in October 2005 and will focus on RFID application development. Along with the conference, a one-day hands-on workshop will give attendees an opportunity to learn the potential of RFID in various application scenarios, and to discuss the latest industrial technologies and initiatives. For more information on WINMEC or RFID technology, visit http://www.winmec.ucla.edu/.