Disney to Encrypt, Track Oscar DVDs

Oscar time isn’t only a boon for the movie industry as hot Academy Award candidates pack the cinemas – it’s also beneficial to pirates looking for DVD-quality copies of new flicks. But this year, Disney is looking to change all that. In the past, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members who vote on the Oscars received VHS tapes of nominees, which posed little risk of piracy. Now, however, movies are distributed on DVDs that can be digitally copied onto computers and uploaded to the Internet in mere hours.

To stem the growing tide of online piracy, the MPAA attempted to ban all DVD screeners two years ago, but the plan was met with harsh reaction from the voters and independent studios. Last year, a compromise was proposed using encryption developed by Dolby Laboratories subsidiary Cinea.

Disney will be the first to employ Cinea’s technology, which serves as a digital rights management layer for DVDs. Each disc is encoded with an identification number unique to each Academy member. The discs will only play on Cinea’s special S-VIEW DVD player that is registered to a specific person. Nearly 12,000 S-VIEW players have been distributed thus far, Cinea says. The device must be registered over the phone or Internet before use, and can also play standard DVDs if necessary.

Cinea hopes that Disney’s backing will help push the technology to order venues, such as the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild. But so far, other Hollywood studios have been hesitant to back such restrictive technology. Some executives fear that requiring special hardware will limit the number of viewers and hurt a film’s chances come Oscar time.

Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures said they have no plans to follow Disney’s lead, instead relying on more open watermarking techniques to track any illegal copies in circulation.

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