The electronic piracy of media and software is something that has gained a very high profile over the last ten years. The result has been some very poorly thought out protection schemes which have in some cases damaged computers or left them open to exploitation by hackers. When an entire group of industries exhibits paranoid delusional behavior on such a large scale, what is a poor researcher to do? Take advantage of it, of course, and that is exactly what a group at Georgia Tech has done.
The team at Georgia Tech has developed a system which on the face of it seems pretty interesting and perhaps useful. Using the principles of digital camera design and the reflectivity of the CMOS or CCD sensor used to take pictures, researchers say that they have found a way to thwart certain forms of piracy stemming from picture taking or filming.
Let's say you're a museum curator or a movie mogul. If you fear that people are going to take unauthorized pictures or videos of a fixed object, then you also know just about where the camera lens is going to be focused: on that statue, on the screen, etc. At that distance a well-placed anti-piracy camera looking back at the crowd should see a nice shiny image of the sensor sitting in your camera. After a bit of triangulation to determine the exact location of the camera, the system can then send a burst of light back to the offending picture taker, blinding their camera. In all, the system uses two cameras to scan the crowd looking for clear images of shiny rectangles and then the system uses a bunch of flash lamps or lasers to
burn out your retina overexpose the image.
When I read the title of this press release I thought I was in for something interesting since there are a bunch of works sitting in museums around the world that need protection from people who can't read signs. But this system won't work because it blinds the camera rather than preventing operation, and so it won't stop peoples' flash from going off, although it may ruin their pictures. The most likely use for this system will be in movie theaters to prevent pirates from filming Hollywood's latest release. It could also be used to prevent that most dastardly act: taking your own picture of your child sitting on Santa's lap. On a more positive note, I am lining up for the first system that can be grill mounted near my license plate.