Is Apple trying to spoil the party?

Stuart Fuller

Watch any concert or sporting event today and you can’t help but notice the number of people who aren’t really watching but are using their phones to record the event instead. Technology today has meant we have the ability to capture crystal clear video and high resolution photos on devices small enough to fit in the palm of our hand.

Although some of those recording the moment will keep the material exclusively for their own use, most will post it online in some form – whether that’s through their personal social media channels or on streaming websites for bigger audiences to view. By doing so, they’re actually infringing on the intellectual property of the trademark holder and any associated commercial partners.

So, for instance, if you record a 30-second video from a Euro 2016 football match, not only are you infringing on the image rights of the players, but also those relating to the commercial partners that are advertising around the pitch. The likes of McDonalds, Kia and HiSense have payed UEFA millions of dollars to get their messaging in prime position, whilst the TV rights holders such as BBC and ITV will also have paid significant amounts to broadcast the coverage. Although it may seem harmless to capture half a minute of Gareth Bale or Eden Hazard, by doing so and then sharing the video you’re essentially creating content that infringes on all parties.

When it comes to concerts, it’s not just recorded images that infringe the artists’ rights, but also any audio content. Recently, global megastar Adele stopped a concert mid-way through to tell a fan to stop filming her, saying: “Can you stop filming me with the video camera because I’m really here in real life and you can enjoy it in real life, rather than through your camera. It’s a real show and I’d really like you to enjoy my show because there’s lots of people outside who couldn’t come in.” Ironically, someone filmed the encounter on their mobile phone then posted it on Twitter.

But if Apple has its way, it may be able to deploy new technology that could stop smartphones being able to capture any digital material at concerts and other venues. It has just been awarded a patent for a system that would work by coded infrared signals beamed from emitters within the venues disabling the recording functions on mobile devices.

Whilst many may view this as the world’s most iconic mobile phone manufacturer going one step too far, there’s another, more positive, side to the technology they want to protect. The idea is to use the technology to provide interactive content via infrared, such as museums displaying information about the object visitors are viewing based their proximity to the exhibit. In the process, Apple may have also discovered – whether by accident or not – a way to stop the illegal distribution of copyrighted material.

The copying and streaming of digital content, such as the secret recording of the latest movies at the cinema, is a problem that worsens year by year as technology gets better and the size of devices (and thus potential detection) gets smaller. Likewise, the growth of the use of the social media platform Periscope, with its ability to stream live events across the Twittersphere, is a concern for all brand holders. Movie piracy costs the industry $2.5 billion a year according to Havocscope, so if a device can be developed that can limit the problem then I think that’s a positive move.