DVD copy protection goes to the dogs

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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has spent years trying to prevent copying of movies. It tried technological fixesâ''scrambling signals in prerecorded videocassettes, copy protection codes in DVDs. It tried legal fixesâ''going after people and tools that unlocked copy protection codes. It promotes legislation intended to stop copying. And while it succeeded in putting a some companies out of business and inconveniencing consumers all this effort hasnâ''t done much to stop those determined to copy movies.

Back a couple of years ago, someone at the MPAA came up with a different approach: train dogs to sniff out DVDs hidden in luggage.

You can see how this idea came about. Mass commercial copying of DVDs is happening outside of the U.S.; many of those disks get back to the U.S., either in bulk or as one-offs brought back by travelers. Stop those disks at the source, and you cut off at least some sales of pirated material. Iâ''m imagining the folks at MPAA had a brainstorming meeting to discuss possible solutions.

â''Iâ''m thinking Terminator,â'' says one guy. "We get a cyborg assassin, we send him back in time, and we eliminate every person who had a hand in the development of the DVD.â'' His colleagues gently remind him that robot assassins donâ''t exist, and even if they did, the DVD was a collaborative effort involving a dozen companies and countless engineers.

â''Wait, then, Iâ''ve got it, and I know this would really work. I think we need a dog detective. Iâ''m sure this would work. After all, Turner and Hooch did $71 million box office. And donâ''t forget Benji, or Lassie. Dogs are huge!â''

â''Yeah, thatâ''s it,â'' a colleague agrees. "Dog Detective. But itâ''s gotta be a buddy flick, you need two cute dogsâ'¿â''

In 2007 the MPAA did a pilot of the concept, training two dogs, Lucky and Flo, and sending them out to the Philippines and Malaysia, where they sniffed out unmarked boxes of DVDs from piles of packages. They reportedly even found a box containing one DVD under piles of dog food. During the six month test, the dogs reportedly sniffed out 1.6 million illegal disks. Lucky and Flo are now popstars, featured in an antipiracy campaign aimed at schoolchildren.

This week, the MPAA launched the sequelâ''Paddy and Manny. The organization donated these trained dogs to the Malaysian Government. They will be targeting suspect warehouses and retail stores, seeking the apparently unique smell of DVDs.

Thereâ''s no reason why DVD sniffing dogs canâ''t become as commonplace in airport luggage areas as drug-sniffing dogs. The problem is, however, that pirate DVDs smell just like legitimate DVDs. And that would definitely increase the hassle factor of air travel. I can totally see myself getting busted in an airport, not for DVD smuggling, but when Iâ''m traveling with my family Iâ''ve got DVDs and CDs stashed all over my luggageâ''audio books burned to CD for the rental car, a case full of movies for the portable DVD player, DVDs of the kidsâ'' latest school plays to hand out to grandparents. Those dogs would be all over me.

Photo credit: MPAA

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