From DRM to digital watermarks

The music industry is likely to replace the copy protection (DRM) with digital watermarks.
Recently the worlds 4 main record companies have all started selling digital music without Digital Rights Management (DRM). Amazon’s MP3 service is the first company out offering MP3’s from all 4. But even though the DRM is gone it doesn’t mean the companies are opening the doors for unlimited copying.

That being said, there’s no real copy protection any more. But if you share your newly bought MP3 in a file sharing network (P2P) it’s not unlikely that the file can be tracked back to the initial buyer through a hidden number placed in a digital watermark inside the file.

According to Wired, none of them has taken it to this level yet. Sony only uses “anonymous” watermarks that only gives some information about the “spread”. Warner and EMI have not yet implemented watermarks. Attorney Fred Von Lohmann at Electronic Frontier Foundation says to Wired that anonymous watermarks may be used to filter content by the ISP’s, given the record industry gets their way.

Digital watermarks is by far a new thing, but the record industry has until recently had more faith in DRM solutions. Mainly because the technology lacked stability and in some cases also affected the quality of the music files.

Now many people in the business believes this is about to turn. The technology has improved, and there’s no apparent alternatives at the moment.

Microsoft is among the companies that could establish a solid presence on the watermark scene after last years patent for a “stealthy audio watermarking” scheme called El Dorado.

According to the patent, El Dorado is, among other things, “designed to survive all typical kinds of processing, including compression, equalization, D/A and A/D conversion, recording on analog tape and so forth. It is also designed to survive malicious attacks that attempt to remove or modify the watermark from the signal, including changes in time and frequency scales, pitch shifting and cut/paste editing.”

So are we back just where we started? And if you can add a digital watermark, don’t you think someone will create an application that removes it as well? Wouldn’t it be better to invest in improving file quality and keeping prices at a minimum?

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