B.C. company zeros in on safe copyrights

A Vancouver-based company is working with a Japanese telecommunications firm to test market a technology that will offer copyright protection for things such as music and images on the Internet.

The Advanced Cultural Technologies (ACT) Cinemage Group offers products and services to manage the distribution and commerce of digitized intellectual property on-line. It has multimedia databases of high-resolution images for delivery over the Internet, and its first commercial venture has been in the area of stock photography, according to Jon Nightingale, the manager of product evolution at ACT Cinemage.

“We’re essentially selling stock photography over the ‘net for immediate download. So people can actually go through, browse the database, find an image, purchase it and download it directly,” he said. “So of course there are issues with respect to that in terms of copyright protection.”

The Group announced last month that it will be renewing an R&D agreement with Japan-based Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. (NTT), Advanced Technology division, and will soon be test marketing NTT’s Content ID system. ACT Cinemage will use its own on-line bank of images and artwork for the market test.

“It’s early stages for this technology at the moment,” Nightingale pointed out.

He explained that in its simplest format, the Content ID is essentially information that is digitally embedded, in this case, within the image file. It’s not visible, and is similar to a watermark that is on the image.

For example, he said if someone purchases an image under the purchase conditions, all is well. But if the image turns up somewhere, being used for some purpose other than what it was originally intended, the digital file could be examined.

People would then be able to “extract this Content ID information, which includes who originally owned the image, who it was sold to, the conditions under which it was sold, and so on,” Nightingale said. “It’s basically a verification process.”

He explained that the Content ID technology approach was initiated by NTT in Japan, and is now being promoted by the Content ID Forum.

“They’ve developed this Content ID approach, and they’ve built a preliminary specification for how it will work. But that’s the stage it is in now – in other words, it is not in use at the moment. It is still under development.”

ACT Cinemage intends to take that specification and essentially use it in conjunction with its own software system which enables the ability to manage the transaction and property rights associated with the process of delivering digital media over the Internet, according to the company.

The market test of the technology in Canada should be happening soon, according to Nightingale. “The expectation is that something will happen fairly quickly,” he said. “It will be within the period of the next six months.”

He explained that Content ID as a project is moving along at a fast rate, particularly in Japan.

“The reason we got involved is that we had previous research collaborations with NTT and the technology is something that is of interest to us because copyright protection is an issue for us,” Nightingale said.

The possibilities for the technology down the road are endless, he said. The Content ID Forum membership includes some key players, including Hitachi and Sharp.

“I think their big interest is in things like music and also video. And it would work exactly the same way…it doesn’t matter what the digital content is, the fact that it has this Content ID information in it means that the files can basically be tracked.”

In the longer term, he said, the Forum’s goals are more ambitious. For example, companies that build VCRs could use the system to read information, and determine if someone has an illegal copy of a videotape. If the machine reads that the video is not a legal copy, it would simply not play the tape.

“But that’s a way down the road, because that obviously implies changes of equipment, and so on,” he said. “And in terms of shipping things around on the Internet, one of the ideas with the Content ID approach is that there would a central registry where people register this information.”

Anyone who is then purchasing an image could check with the registration authority to see if it is a valid copy.

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