Microsoft Wants To Turn Xbox 360 Kinect Into Big Brother!

A Microsoft patent application published this week suggests that the software giant could use its Xbox 360 Kinect hardware as a “Big Brother” sensor to prevent too many people from watching rented movies.

The patent application, applied for on November 1, is titled “Content distribution regulation by viewing user.” The patent, assigned to Kathryn Stone Perez, Alex Aben-Athar Kipman and Andrew John Fuller, describes a “content presentation system and method allowing content providers to regulate the presentation of content on a per-user-view basis”.

Although the patent goes on at some length, the concept is fairly simple: the patent assumes a future in which a content provider (Microsoft or a third-party studio) licenses content like a movie or game to be played. The difference that the patent suggests is that the content would be licensed on a per-user-view basis, so that, for example, a maximum of four people could watch a movie.

The patent goes on to suggest that the computing device itself enforce limits on the number of people that could view the movie or game. If the number of viewers exceeds the limit, the viewers could be asked to re-license the movie - paying more for the privilege, one can assume - or risk it being blocked or shut down.

Or as the patent application suggests:

“Once the presentation begins at 326, the users in the field of view may change over the course of the presentation. Users may enter or leave the display area of a display device, for example. At 328, the display area for the display device is re-scanned. At 330, a determination is made as to whether the consuming user count has changed. Again, the content provider based on information provided to the content provider by the display device may perform step 330. In such embodiments, the content provider performs step 330. At 332, a comparison of the user count and any view or performance limitation against that allowed by the license is again made. If the license is exceeded, the process moves to step 338 to offer an opportunity to change the license terms. If the count has not changed, a determination is made at 334 whether performance of the content has been completed. “

The numbers refer to specific components of the patent itself.

Kinect Is Watching You

Although the computing device in question could be any number of things, including a camera-equipped mobile phone, one of the drawings attached to the patent includes a television screen with a pair of cameras mounted upon it. Although neither the patent nor the drawings name it specifically, the suggestion is that the Xbox Kinect sensor could be used to identify users and determine if their presence, including moving in an out of the room, would be enough to warrant a license warning.

“Individuals may be specifically identified and the amount of their consumption of the content tracked relative to their specific use,” the patent application reads.

Microsoft clearly recognizes that its Kinect peripheral offers it the chance to take living-room computing in new, revolutionary directions, from peripheral displays that can project “holodeck”-like scenery on the walls to mounting it on your computer monitor to enable Minority Report-style gestures. The patent also specifically mentions eyeglasses - most probably the Fortaleza augmented reality glasses that previously leaked documents detailed - that could be used to view real and virtual objects. Microsoft representatives did not return requests for comment.

Pay-Per-View Impact

Still, the use of Microsoft hardware to enforce copyrights could have more of a real-world impact on things like sporting events, all of which carry taglines similar to those used by Major league Baseball: “Any reproduction, retransmission or rebroadcast without the expressed, written consent of Major League Baseball is strictly prohibited.” 

For a baseball game, the rights to watch it are essentially free, paid for by a user’s cable or satellite license. (Baseball, like other sports, charges more for the rights to see out-of-town games or to watch games online.) But bars, restaurants and other businesses have to buy a special business TV subscription that allows them to broadcast sports to larger groups of people, such as this one from Cox. The price might not be that high - a Cox salesman told ReadWrite that an expanded HD package would run $80 per month - but the special events are where a business will pay more.

The price for watching a pay-per-view bout at home might be $50, while businesses typically pay $1,500 to $3,000 or more depending on the size of the venue, according to J&J Sports President Joseph Gagliardi, as quoted by Bloomberg. Some bar owners attempt to tap into the residential signal to broadcast the pay-per-view mixed-martial-arts matches, and should pay more to broadcast football games. 

But while Kinect-equipped bars might be relatively rare, on any given Sunday living rooms across the nation might be packed with family and friends. And if the NFL, MLB or NBA decided that too many people were watching the game, the video feed could suddenly be cut off. And that would truly be game over. 

Image source: Microsoft.