Take me out to the ballgame, then watermark it
By Nate Anderson | Published: October 02, 2007 - 10:01PM CT
Major League Baseball likes its copyrights served up strong, with just a hint of hyperbole to keep things interesting. The league has previously asserted that player names and statistics are subject to copyright (and must therefore be licensed for use in things like fantasy baseball leagues), and for months now it has emitted ominous rumblings about the Slingbox and its ability to place-shift content. Now, in an effort to know exactly how game footage is being used by television stations around the world, Major League Baseball has signed a deal with watermarking and monitoring firm Teletrax to keep an eye on the 2007 postseason.
Teletrax will provide the technology to watermark game broadcasts, and it will use a proprietary international system of detectors to determine when and where that footage is then used around the globe. The company claims that its technology is robust enough to protect against "all common video-processing operations normally found in studios and in transmission paths," including MPEG compression, cropping, scaling, and 50/60Hz conversion for use outside the US. The company claims that the watermark will even survive the transition to DivX.
The company's detectors can monitor all 210 television markets in the US along with cable and satellite broadcasts. They sniff out the watermark and log information about video clips that show up in sports shows, local news broadcasts, and the like. This lets Major League Baseball crack down on broadcasters using its footage without paying, but it also allows the league to cash in by more accurately billing for things like "sponsorship valuations."
The move does not appear targeted at the Internet use of MLB footage, though the league already keeps an eye out for this and has been involved in numerous takedown requests to sites like YouTube. If the watermark is truly as robust as Teletrax claims, there's no reason in principle why the system could not be extended to the Internet. Digimarc, which provides some of the underlying technology to Teletrax, has already filed for just such a patent.