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Content protection company Macrovision plans to announce on Tuesday that it has developed a way to eliminate the vast majority of DVD copying.

The technology, called “RipGuard DVD”, will be licensed to the company’s partners: studios who are part of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), executives told ExtremeTech. RipGuard isn’t foolproof, but the hope is that it will cut down on mainstream ripping, they said. The software will simply block rippers from working.

Macrovision’s technology evolved from its early work with VCRs, and the technology embedded into videocassettes that prevented them from being copied. The problem has become much more challenging in a world where content is stored on DVD and accessed through powerful personal computers that can edit video, aided by the Internet, which can disseminate tools and help to create collaborative solutions.

Although the Content Scramble System (CSS) was put in place to prevent piracy, a program called “DeCSS’ was quickly distributed and has found its way into 70 different software packages available as freeware and shareware on the Internet, according to Adam Gervin, senior marketing director for the entertainment technologies group at Macrovision.

“CSS encryption standards are binary,” Gervin said. “They’re great until you break it, and then it’s worthless. DeCSS made its way into the public’s understanding, that perfect digital copies can be made in minutes. The cat’s out of the bag.”

Once decoded, the content on a DVD is vulnerable as it is transmitted onto an analog display; the so-called “analog hole”. Macrovision developed and licensed a Copy Generation Management System (CGSM/A) to block the “analog hole”. In a recent industry meeting, Gervin said, audience members could not tell the difference between a pirated “analog” version of a recent movie and its digital original.

RipGuard, however, is designed to eliminate an even easier source of piracy: the digital bitstream itself. According to Gervin, just over a billion dollars has been lost by people who “rip and return”: consumers who rent a movie, copy it to their own digital library, and return the movie the next day.

Gervin declined to comment specifically on the RipGuard technology, which he described as “a format-based technology applied to optical media of the DVD”. The DVD will not include embedded software, nor will it force consumers to buy a new DVD player, as the VCTS format developed by HP and Philips will. Each title will have a unique format attached to it, Gervin said, that will help keep Macrovision one step ahead of copyright violators.

“The best way to combat piracy is to create a compelling consumer value,” Gervin said. “If we are hoping to put content protection in the hands of the consumer we can not put a burden on the consumer about it.”

RipGuard “will stop 97 percent of rippers by market share,” Gervin said, who acknowledged that the technology will eventually be broken by “tech heads”. The idea, he said, was to cut back on the mainstream pirate consumers who make up the bulk of the population. RipGuard will simply crash the ripper software, he said, by using the Universal Disk Format to prevent the file from being ripped to the hard drive before it can be copied.

The technology has met with approval form at least one company: THX Ltd., which has given its stamp of approval to the technology after Macrovision asked THX engineers to hunt down potential artifacts the technology could introduce. Gervin said that RipGuard has been shown to studios, but that he was prevented from securities regulations from disclosing the names.

“Look for MPAA studios to adopt complete DVD protection in 2005,” Gervin said. The term “complete” will refer to the combination of RipGuard and Advanced Copy Protection (ACP) that Macrovision will market as a bundle. ACP prevents DVDs from being copied to VHS cassettes by making the picture wavy and indistinct.

The concept of digital-rights-management has been a controversial one, in part because consumers have come to expect that a movie or other piece of software that is purchased is theirs to do with what they wish, part of the “fair use” concept. Gervin said he’s sympathetic to that viewpoint; Macrovision currently encodes digital bitstreams using ACP, which includes rules-based restrictions that can allow content to be piped within various devices within the home.

Macrovision has the ability to move that rules-based technology onto the DVD, Gervin said. So far, no studio has taken him up on it.