Deluxe makes its mark on piracy

When they put the handcuffs on a twentysomething in L.A. last month for uploading Flushed Away and Happy Feet to the Internet, it was thanks to a hot tip received by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And it wasn’t CSI: LA that cracked the case, but Deluxe Postproduction Toronto.

The post house has been instrumental in the fight against piracy dating back to 2003, when a judge ruled that the studios couldn’t legally stop producers from sending out screeners despite a high incidence of bootlegging.

‘The studios turned to us to create a methodology to track pirated screeners directly to the individual,’ recalls Deluxe’s VP of technology Jeff Dewolde. The process involves feeding a mastered DVD file into Deluxe’s proprietary software, which then creates a unique disc copy with its own watermarking value.

‘It had to be a process that wouldn’t degrade the image quality,’ says Dewolde of the criteria involved. ‘And it couldn’t be detected or removed by someone who wanted to make bootleg DVDs or put it up on the Internet.’ Finally, it had to be robust enough for ‘collusion attack,’ where DVDs are mixed and matched to avoid detection.

Using a pipeline that uses 18 robots, each capable of burning 500 discs per day, Deluxe turned out 430,000 screeners this past year for its film print clients, including Paramount, Sony, Fox and Miramax. But the most impressive statistic may be its success in tracking its own handiwork.

‘We have a department called Web Watch,’ says Dewolde proudly. ‘We have about 10 people here who scour the globe looking for the content that we watermark. We’re into private server channels, Internet, newsgroups and the YouTubes.’

Asian- and Russian-speaking web watchers search for pirated content, including Deluxe-watermarked film prints that are camcordered and posted on the Internet.

‘We need to be able to recover the watermark. That’s how we measure success. Can we find it and recover the code? To date, we’ve had 100% success and multiple prosecutions.’

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