If put into practice, Microsoft’s plan could mean that the film you’re watching suddenly stops playing if it detects that you’ve got more people squashed on to the sofa than the licence allows. You’d then be prompted to buy a more expensive licence to keep watching. It’s as if Big Brother had built 1984’s Telescreen not to monitor the population but to ensure no one was pirating the Two Minutes Hate.
In all likelihood, Microsoft will struggle to actually apply this patent in the real world. While copyright holders would be delighted, customers would be turned off by such a draconian system. But that’s what’s interesting about this application and patent applications in general: they often reveal what companies would do if they could get away with it. The black and white drawings and blandly technical language can cover immoral, scary and downright evil ideas.
There was an even more striking example from Apple earlier this year. In September, it was granted a patent for “Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device”, i.e. a system allowing companies or governments to remotely disable mobile phones and tablets in a particular area.
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