The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has endorsed a plan to distribute about 6,000 special DVD players to members. Specially encrypted discs, known as screeners, would be earmarked for a specific academy voter and would play only on that person's machine. The player also would imprint an invisible watermark on the disc each time it is viewed. In addition, if someone uses a camcorder to tape the movie as it is playing on a monitor, that image would contain information on the person assigned the machine.
Similar watermarking technology used last year on lower-quality videocassettes helped authorities track and convict an Illinois man who had obtained screeners from an academy member and duplicated hundreds of illegal copies for sale.
The success of that effort led Cinea Inc., a division of Dolby Laboratories, to approach the academy about a combination of encryption and watermarking so studios could once again distribute screeners on DVDs.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents studios, last year banned the distribution of screener DVDs and videotapes over concerns about bootlegging. Many of the screener copies are of films that are in movie theaters or are still unreleased.