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Microsoft Patent Lets Hollywood Watch You with Camera

OK Microsoft, now you're driving into Crazy Town. Eurogamer has stumbled across a patent filed by the Redmond company back in April 2011 – and published on November 1 – called "Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User". It essentially controls media playback using a camera (like Kinect) by seeing who is actually watching the movie or TV show. If there are too many individuals seated in front of the screen, the media will not play.

Well hello, Big Brother.

"Content is distributed to consuming devices, such as televisions, set-top boxes and digital displays, with an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content," the patent states. "The limitation may comprise a number of user views, a number of user views over time, a number of simultaneous user views, views tied to user identities, views limited to user age or any variation or combination thereof, all tied to the number of actual content consumers allowed to view the content."

The patent goes on to explain that consumers are presented with a content selection and a choice of licenses allowing consumption of that 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," the patent adds.

In other words, the video will stop and users are forced to purchase an additional license for anyone outside the current limit. However, as Eurogamer points out, there may be a grace period before the movie or TV episode halts, allowing for non-viewers to pass through the room without interrupting playback and requiring extra cash.

The patent doesn't actually list Microsoft's Kinect as the source camera, but rather describes a content licensing and monitoring process that could even take advantage of a built-in front-facing camera on a smartphone or tablet. However the Redmond company does reference the Xbox console (612) and its Kinect accessory (620) in one paragraph just to make sure all the bases are covered.

"A user within the display area of the display 616 [HDTV] may be tracked using the capture device 620 such that the gestures and/or movements of the user may be captured to determine the number of people present, whether users are viewing content and/or may be interpreted as controls that may be used to affect the application being executed by computing environment 612," the patent reads. "Such information may also be used to determine whether the tracked user is viewing content presented by a content provider."

It would be easy to assume that consumers could simply disconnect the Kinect sensor to prevent Microsoft and content owners from peeping into their living room. Even more, if the Xbox Infinity (2013) will have a built-in Kinect sensor, then all users would have to do is block the camera. But Microsoft and content owners will likely anticipate that kind of behavior and implement a content block until the camera can see the viewers again.

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