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Sony sets movies to self-destruct

Antipiracy software embedded in movie downloads from Sony's Japanese ISP unit causes the file to become unplayable after a certain time, according to a report.

A subsidiary of electronics maker Sony is to sell downloadable movie files that self-destruct after a given time.

According to Japanese newspaper Nikkei Business Daily, the company's So-net Internet service provider will soon trial the service in Japan.

Many digital content providers currently use encrypted streaming to prevent people from saving and copying movie files. The downside is that the quality of the video suffers, as it is reduced in size for Web transmission. In addition, people must stay online to view the feed.

However, allowing downloads of movie files opens the door to illegal copying.

To sidestep these issues, So-net's new service allows people to download the content from its Web site to their hard drives--but those hoping to add the file to a permanent collection or to copy it could have their attempts frustrated.

The company has incorporated a digital rights management (DRM) technology from software maker Japan Wave into its service, which should make copying impossible, the report said.

Instead of saving a video to a single file and location, Japan Wave's technology splits the data into numerous directories on a hard disk. People need to download special software to play back the various pieces as a continuous movie.

There's a second layer of protection: Those who manage to join up the files won't be able to use them for very long. Software embedded in the file is designed to cause it to self-destruct after a given time, said the report.

So-net's approach to DRM is part of a growing effort by ISPs to find robust copy protection without restricting people's rights to enjoy the content.

Earlier this month, Walt Disney announced plans for a trial in the United States. The company said it will start renting self-destructing DVDs that automatically become unplayable after a two-day period.

Major movie studios in Hollywood are also turning up the heat, joining forces in a slew of lawsuits against U.S.-based DVD-copying software makers like DVDBackupbuddy.com and DVDSqueeze.com.

CNETAsia staff reported from Singapore.