New Microsoft Patent to Limit Kinect Audience Raises Concerns

Have you ever paid attention to the copyright warnings that pop up before movies? In addition to promising to hunt you down if you dare to make unauthorized copies, they also prohibit you from “public” displays of that material as well. Whether or not you think watching a blu-ray on a big screen with 50 other people qualifies as a copyright violation, the question of how exactly anyone would know how many people were watching at a given time was left unanswered…until now. A recently published Microsoft patent seems to hint at a Kinect application that counts how many people are in the room, and prompts  you to purchase an additional license for your content if it exceeds a limit set by the content provider. Sound a little Big Brother? From the patent application:

A content presentation system and method allowing content providers to regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis. Content is distributed an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content. Consumers are presented with a content selection and a choice of licenses allowing consumption of the content. 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.

In other words,  the camera in your Kinect (or laptop, or smartphone…the patent is really broad) can be used to “continuously monitor” the number of people present, and give you a choice of paying more for an upgraded license, sending some friends packing, or not getting to access the content at all if your audience is over the limit. These limits could vary from number of views in a specific timeframe, number of views per device, or simply total number of views. The patent additionally covers facial recognition for the purpose of determining how many times a particular user has viewed the content,  and if their licensed to do so. Since “content” includes video games, that last check could be particularly worrying for anyone who has ever borrowed a game from a friend. Could you be prompted to pay up since you aren’t the game’s licensed user, or is this much ado about nothing? Check out Microsoft patent for “Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User” here and decide for yourself.


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