updated 04:35 pm EDT, Wed May 7, 2008
NBC wants Zune Copy Filter
(Updated with Microsoft comment) NBC Universal today revealed in a discussion with the New York Times that Microsoft is working to implement an anti-piracy filter into its Zune media players. While not outlining the amount of progress, the studio's digital chief J. B. Perrette says that Microsoft has agreed to work on a "cop" that would check the legitimacy of videos loaded on the device; those deemed illegal would refuse to play. The implementation would function similarly to automatic blocks being tried at YouTube and other sites, which are claimed to stop easy bootlegging by checking such data as the title or basic track information.
Microsoft also declines to provide details but acknowledges through company representative Adam Sohn that it has begun cooperating with NBC on the anti-copying technology. SanDisk is also investigating the option, according to NBC.
The move is instrumental to the appearance of NBC shows for Zunes, Perrette says. NBC has been willing to offer its content on downloadable services but now wants to guarantee that customers are unable to load unapproved versions of the same titles on the players, encouraging them to seek pirated copies instead.
Microsoft is also willing to vary its backend pricing for TV shows, though the company currently sells all of them to the public at $2 per episode and is absorbing any reduced margins or losses from each show.
It's these same reasons that NBC continues to refuse the return of its content to iTunes as a whole, according to the TV network executive. Apple has so far declined to develop an anti-piracy filter for iPods and currently insists on flat wholesale pricing for most TV content, with the exceptions being some select shows at the UK store that now sell for varying prices. Apple has not explained its efforts but has typically shied away from using any filtering systems on the iPod, and has routinely argued in favor of flat pricing in order to avoid customer confusion.
The NBC statements raise concerns over legality and precedent. Although anti-piracy filtering isn't considered illegal, it may tread on legal precedents in the US for fair use rights that allow users to copy media for backup purposes. These are often cited as justification for users extracting content from CDs and DVDs for the sake of transferring it to a portable media player.
Advocacy groups have also warned that allowing stores to use filters may promote laws that require anti-copying technology, while others have pointed out that such methods are rarely effective as experienced users learn to alter files to avoid filtering techinques.
NBC is reportedly aware of initial concerns, but argues that filters are necessary to protect the revenue necessary for continued filming. "In the long term, the consumer wants there to be quality premium-produced content," according to Perrette. "And in order for that to continue to be a viable business, there needs to be significant protection around it."
Update: Microsoft now claims that it has no plans to filter content for NBC, though has yet to explain the contradiction between statements from company officials.