Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cap codes...?

A student in my graduate seminar wants to write a paper on cap codes. What's a cap code, you ask? Well, that's the problem. Very few people seem to be talking about them, at least publicly. Here's a link to a short entry on cap codes on Wikipedia.

Apparently cap codes are small, unique, visible sets of symbols that the Hollywood movie studios now encode onto film prints. They're sort of like the flashes that used to indicate upcoming reel changes to projectionists. In this case, however, the codes identify which cinema a specific print has been sent to. The point of cap coding is to forestall movie piracy--or, at the very least, to help the studios identify which exhibition hall is responsible for letting an illicit duplicate leave the theather and thus to track down alleged "pirates."

My student tells me that the phenomenon of cap coding is fairly widespread, but most everyone involved--the theaters, the trade magazines, the studios, etc.--are pretty hush-hush about the practice. Anyone out there know anything about this or have any leads? Conspiracy theorists are, of course, welcome to chime in, too.


Matt said...

I don't know anything about them per se, but I'm more than aware of them, if that makes sense. They're quite easily spotted if you're paying attention, and they can pull you right out of a movie. Usually they're 'hidden' in action sequences, or scenes with lots of movement, or on cuts, so that they're not obvious. But, still, I tend to think they are. And they're awfully annoying.

In what capacity does your student want to write about them?

Glen Fuller said...

The film projects I have been involved in (local-level, DVD-only enthusiast productions) often have 'digital watermarks' for similar reasons (mostly to trace hackers gaining access to production personal-only servers where I download clips or whatever), but this is mostly during the post-production phase where I am brought in to help 'discourse' the project.

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Glen & Matt,

Thanks for your comments. My student's interest in cap coding stems from a concern with "versioning," or really the philosophy of reproduction/ reproducibility as it relates to mass-produced cultural goods. I think his argument is going to go something like this: cap codes render mass-reproduced cultural goods unique or singular at some level, but in so doing they undercut the challenge singularly unique goods pose to the original-copy distinction. I've only seen his proposal so far, however, so I'm not altogether sure how the paper or argument will play out.

Matt, I'll pass along your comment, re: the action sequences, and Glen, the bit about digital watermarking. I'd be curious to hear how you feel about the practice, as someone working on the "inside," as it were.