The Entertainment Merchants Association has proposed a DRM-esque scheme to help combat shoplifting: A point-of-sale activation system that would leave discs useless until they’re paid for at the counter.

The EMA has gathered retailers, home video companies and videogame publishers to determine how easily it could implement what it calls “benefit denial technology,” a set of standards that would require games and other forms of entertainment to be activated at time of purchase. A Gamasutra report says the system, codenamed “Project Lazarus,” is similar to ink-filled security tags on clothing that break open and leave permanent stains when they’re removed by force.

“The deployment of benefit denial technology would reduce shrink in videogame and DVD stocks, increase open marketing of video games, reduce packaging, decrease labor costs, improve consumer access to videogames and Blu-ray discs, and make the categories more attractive for additional retail channels,” said EMA President and CEO Bo Andersen. “Given the myriad of potential benefits, EMA recognized the imperative to bring together major stakeholders to provide an impetus for further development and timely deployment of effective benefit denial technologies for DVDs and videogames that are useful and effective for a broad range of entertainment retailers.”

I have no idea what impact physical theft has on the movie and videogame industries, but for as much as I’ve ever thought about it (which isn’t much) I would have guessed it was something approaching negligible, no worse than that faced by any other industry that sells its product at the retail level. From that perspective this seems like a lot of time and effort for minimal payoff, but if my guess is way off-base – if shoplifting is “the silent killer” – then maybe there’s something to this. Even more interesting, however, is the idea of applying a scheme like this to anti-piracy efforts. Retailers have never really figured into the conventional power struggle between publishers and consumers, but maybe something like this is a first step toward new approaches to copy protection that finally satisfy everyone.

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