A patent application filed by Microsoft and published by the USPTO on Nov. 1 describes digital rights management technology that would enforce content viewership limitations through, among other methods, scanning an audience with "a camera or capture device" in order to count heads. The technology could be built into any number of products, such as Kinect for Xbox, though none were specified.
As word of the patent application has begun to spread, the predictable privacy concerns and mockery are arising. (The photo at right is my attempt at the latter using Meme Generator.)
A portion of the patent summary reads:
The technology, briefly described, is a content presentation system and method allowing content providers to regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis. Content is distributed to consuming devices, such as televisions, set-top boxes and digital displays, with an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content. The limitation may comprise a number of user views, a number of user views over time, a number of simultaneous user views, views tied to user identities, views limited to user age or any variation or combination thereof, all tied to the number of actual content consumers allowed to view the content. Consumers are presented with a content selection and a choice of licenses allowing consumption of the content. In one embodiment, a license manager on the consuming device or on a content providers system manages license usage and content consumption. The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken.
Where some see Big Brother in the technology Microsoft wants to patent, others see useful parental controls, with the latter apparently springing from this passage:
In an alternative embodiment, a fee can be charged for each viewer of the content for each view. In another alternative, at 225 and 240, a per-viewer license may comprise counting the number of viewers in a viewing area and directly charging for each identified user in the viewing area. Viewers may be uniquely identified and a count of the viewers determined, with the licensee then charged for each viewer accessing the content. Age and identity restrictions can be applied in this embodiment as well.
I have a request in to Microsoft's public relations department to see if the company will have any comment about its plans for this technology.
(Update: From a Microsoft spokesperson: "Microsoft regularly applies for and receives patents as part of its business practice. Not all patents applied for or received will be incorporated into a Microsoft product.")
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