UCLA researchers are developing the technological infrastructure behind RFID-enabled DVD players that would play only tagged DVDs.

A group of researchers at UCLA is working on a new RFID application that would provide consumers a means of watching DVDs of movies as soon as they hit the theaters. It could also be used to address one of Hollywood’s biggest concerns: piracy of digital content. The group is researching a method of using RFID as a tool for digital rights management (DRM), wherein technologies are employed to protect media files from unauthorized use. Digital rights management is also used to process payment to compensate copyright holders for the use of their intellectual property. Apple computer’s iTunes application, which lets users purchase music for 99 cents per song, is an example of a digital rights management platform.

The UCLA research group is developing the software and hardware components of a system that would embed DVDs with an RFID tag and DVD players with an RFID reader so that the tagged DVDs would play only in RFID-enabled players and only if the reader could authenticate the DVD’s tag. In order to authenticate, the player would also need to link to some type of online network, similar to the EPCglobal Network, that would associate the DVD with a legal sale. Through this system, the copyright owners (the film production company and any other license-holders of the content) would have digital rights management over the work. But viewers would not be able to play the DVDs without an RFID-enabled player because the tag would essentially lock the disc.

The project is being developed by UCLA’s Wireless Internet for the Mobile Enterprise Consortium (WINMEC), a research group based at UCLA that also is developing RFID middleware, sensor networking devices and online applications for mobile media.

Rajit Gadh, professor in UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of WINMEC, says that the research going into the project is targeted at determining whether the concept is technologically feasible. “We’re in the very early stages of this project—the first research stage,” says Gadh. “We have different pieces of the technology and a pretty good idea of how it is going to fit together. But we don’t have anything that we could demonstrate. We should begin to publish research reports on the project during the next six months.”

Once the initial research work is complete, the group will begin building prototypes of RFID-enabled DVD players and tagged DVDs. A potential hurdle, says Gadh, will be interference from other electronics in the home that also use RF. The group will also need to develop a system for writing to the tags, a platform for associating DVDs with their purchasers or owners and a means of encrypting the tag data. The WINMEC group has developed a middleware platform called WinRFID that it will use in the development of the RFID/DRM project.

By Mary Catherine O’Connor

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