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Digital Watermarks to Replace DRM 374

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the now-we're-getting-somewhere dept.
palegray.net noted a wired story about an industry trend towards watermarking and away from DRM. It says "With all of the Big Four record labels now jettisoning digital rights management, music fans have every reason to rejoice. But consumer advocates are singing a note of caution, as the music industry experiments with digital-watermarking technology as a DRM substitute. Watermarking offers copyright protection by letting a company track music that finds its way to illegal peer-to-peer networks. At its most precise, a watermark could encode a unique serial number that a music company could match to the original purchaser. So far, though, labels say they won't do that: Warner and EMI have not embraced watermarking at all, while Sony's and Universal's DRM-free lineups contain "anonymous" watermarks that won't trace to an individual." Here is a Technical discussion on AudioBox and PSU.edu's Abstract Index
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Digital Watermarks to Replace DRM

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  • by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:43PM (#22015920) Homepage Journal
    DRM is a Bad Thing, IMO. It restricts your choice and prevents you from playing the media you bought in the way you want to.

    But watermarking? Eh. I don't care. You're supposed to not be sharing music you bought, and unless someone actually breaks in and steals it, there's really no legitimate reason to find music that you bought out on the net somewhere.

    That's a big "unless", though. Are we coming to the point where we're going to have to file police reports when you get hacked so that you won't be liable for the distribution of stolen music? What about liability insurance for watermarked music?

    Something to think about.
  • Give and Take (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joker1980 (891225) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:46PM (#22015956)
    Most people are calling for some reasonable give and take, in that regard i cant really argue against watermarks.
  • analog hole (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dance_Dance_Karnov (793804) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:49PM (#22016010) Homepage
    still there? ok then, non-issue.
  • by NetSettler (460623) <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:50PM (#22016018) Homepage Journal

    Are we talking per-customer watermarks? (The article didn't seem to say.) Aside from the usual privacy implications, that would have its own problems, since it would allow for unbounded downstream prosecution of anyone who ever let even one copy go free, including through malware. It would make it quite a liability to even buy such stuff.

  • Trust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:51PM (#22016044)
    I'm not necessarily against watermarking, but:

    ... while Sony's and Universal's DRM-free lineups contain "anonymous" watermarks that won't trace to an individual

    So we trust Sony now, do we? Why does that not seem like a good idea? Not that Universal is likely to be more trustworthy, but they're more of an unknown than Sony.
  • Ho hum (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maroberts (15852) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:51PM (#22016054) Homepage Journal
    Take two official copies, work out where differences are, remove said differences. Goodbye watermark
  • by palegray.net (1195047) <philip...paradis@@@palegray...net> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:51PM (#22016060) Homepage Journal

    That's a big "unless", though. Are we coming to the point where we're going to have to file police reports when you get hacked so that you won't be liable for the distribution of stolen music? What about liability insurance for watermarked music?
    That's exactly the sort of privacy concern I have concerning widespread use of watermarking. Any time a unique identifier could be used to track something after it's been sold (whether it's digital or physical), these concerns come up. I think of parallels to unique tracker chips (perhaps uniquely encoded RFID chips) being embedded in all sorts of stuff; what if a guy kills someone with a kitchen knife he stole from your house that happens to have such a chip in it? An extreme example, sure... but it would make defending yourself more complicated.
  • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:55PM (#22016098)
    "If they haven't figured out a way to actually encrypt the watermarks, they're more stupid than I thought."

    Like, duh. For watermarks to work they have to be different between different copies of the same file; that's the whole point of a watermark. And that design requirement guarantees they can be trivially found by a simple byte compare, whether or not they're encrypted.

    It's no wonder you're not concerned when you don't even understand the issues.
  • Re:Watermarks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:01PM (#22016192)
    that's a typically reactionary response- how does a watermark make a produce defective? it's not interfering with my playback or use of the digital file. it doesn't prevent me from making a million copies of the file for my computers, ipod, thumbdrive, etc. it's information that's only useful if i do something illegal. this is like putting your name on your luggage.
  • by palegray.net (1195047) <philip...paradis@@@palegray...net> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:09PM (#22016288) Homepage Journal
    I was with right up to the point you said "I can even make him a copy". No, you cannot legally make him a copy, unless you obtain permission from the publisher of the album (i.e., record label, artist, etc). I could make a CD of nothing but my wife snoring, and I own the copyright to it; you'd run a risk of getting sued for copyright infringement if you distributed copies to your friends (God only knows why you'd want to, but then again, some modern music isn't much better than my wife snoring).
  • !new (Score:2, Insightful)

    by igorthefiend (831721) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:15PM (#22016352)
    When I was at university writing for the music section of the newspaper, we used to fairly regularly receive CDs from the likes of BMG (Tom McRae's "Just Like Blood" arrived like this in Jan of 2003, the earliest example I remember, but it may predate that) these had individual serial numbers and names, and claimed to be watermarked to us as individuals, lest we dare leak the music. I always assumed it could be defeated by a bit by bit comparison against the retail copy - presumably the difference would be the watermark, and I don't see why that wouldn't also be true here?
  • by cliffski (65094) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:18PM (#22016396) Homepage
    This is a solution to what problem exactly?
    The proposed solution is DRM-free high quality tracks, where *if* you leak it onto a file-sharing site, then you can be traced. How is this a bad thing?
    You seem to think this is a problem, but I can only see this being a problem from the POV of pirates, and people determined to leech music for free.

    You would have a reasonable argument to suggest that the law needs some safeguards, and that the record companies should not throw the book at someone who stupidly emailed a song to a friend, who then must have leaked it, but assuming the record companies only target the hardcore who upload entire albums, or are traced to p2p music on multiple occasions, what exactly is bad and wrong about this?
    DRM-free music was supposedly what slashdot readers want? Or was it just 'free' music all along, and the DRM thing was just a way to claim justification for piracy while it lasted?

    People complained that they pirated because the music had DRM, and the DRM is going. People complained the music was too expensive, and itunes led to way lower prices. Now what is the excuse?
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:20PM (#22016426)
    It doesn't matter WHAT you do, you can still FIND the watermark just by comparing a few copies of the song. Once you've found it, you can scramble it. You can't recover the original, unwatermarked version, but you can mess up the watermark.

    Sophisticated watermarking techniques protect the watermark IF there is only one, ie all copies have the same watermark. Then you can't compare multiple, differently watermarked copies and so you can't find the watermark. It makes it much harder to mess up when you don't know where it is.
  • by Workaphobia (931620) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:45PM (#22016700) Journal
    Well, watermarks are harmful in that sense if they're accepted as evidence into court, which is tantamount to accepting the RIAA's word that they didn't just manufacture evidence out of nothing with the intent of framing random people. Third parties can be prevented from framing people in this manner with an encryption scheme, but that doesn't help us when the RIAA itself isn't to be trusted. On the other hand, all this assumes that watermarks are intended to make it to court - perhaps the intent is instead to tie a leaked copy to a user account and that user's IP address, which can then be monitored for other infringing activity.

    Of course, even if watermarks weren't considered foolproof evidence by themselves, they could still be used to support the kinds of RIAA cases we see today. I doubt a jury would care whether they could technically be faked.
  • Re:Transcoding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xaxa (988988) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:04PM (#22016932)
    Has anyone considered temporal watermarking?

    Everyone is suggesting multiple transcodings to remove unheard information i.e. the watermark. Tiny differences in not what, but when, would be harder to remove.
  • by spitzak (4019) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:21PM (#22017154) Homepage
    And if your new iPod or Zune rejects corrupted watermarks?

    No, that would make it easy to detect if you successfully removed the watermark (assumming the iPod/Zune will play a song without any watermark in it).

    If the players only play correctly-watermarked data, that is equivalent to them only playing "signed" data. Well that is the RIAA wetdream, not only do you have working DRM, but you have also made it basically impossible for anybody other than "professionals" to produce content (since they will not have the license to sign their songs).
  • by reboot246 (623534) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:25PM (#22017196) Homepage
    Just wondering. What about CDs and DVDs given as gifts? Certainly not the original purchaser sharing in that case. What about the rental market? What about the used CD and DVD market? Music and movies could be shared by lots of people who were not the original purchasers.
  • by DrEldarion (114072) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:55PM (#22017500)

    Watermarks tied to users offer the RIAA an easy way to frame anyone, since they can create a watermarked copy of any file with your details and release it on the Internet.
    How is this insightful? Doesn't this seem incredibly paranoid to anyone else? Is it only modded up because it's anti-RIAA? It's completely ridiculous to think that they have it out for certain people and would "frame" them.

    The RIAA, as much as they're (rightfully) demonized here, is acting defensively, not offensively. People are sharing the RIAA's copyrighted material, and they are taking legal action against those people. They'd use watermarks to track the sources of the released files. This allows for them to more accurately identify who are the people actually illegally distributing the files, so they don't end up going after everyone from four-year-old children to grandmothers who don't own computers. Isn't more accuracy a good thing?
  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:07PM (#22017602) Journal

    A bit more complicated -- music is purchased in the US. Buyer travels to Canada. A Canadian copies the music (legally). Now, there are two (legal) copies; one in the US and one in Canada. The Canadian now travels to the US, and has her laptop (with the copy on it) checked. She is detained. What law was broken?


    Attempted import of an unauthorized copy.

  • Re:Give and Take (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spitzak (4019) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:22PM (#22017774) Homepage
    Newer operating systems equipped with digital rights management software (DRM) will extract the watermark from audio files prior to playing them on the system. The DRM software will ensure that the user has paid for the song by comparing the watermark to the existing purchased licences on the system.

    Either the article writer or somebody who talked to him is an idiot. I'm not saying this won't happen, but that is NOT "watermarking" in any useful way. That is DRM.

    If you make a device that refuses to play a song with the wrong watermark, you have provided everybody with a cheap and foolproof method of figuring out if their software has successfully removed the watermark. Watermarks will be stripped and their purpose is defeated.

    The problem is that it is almost impossible to explain this to some of the clueless people who are managing these organizations. So I would not be suprised if such a watermark-stripping-detector showed up on the market. The watermark detecting program should be kept in top secrecy with very little access down in a vault in the RIAA or whoever is doing this. But they are idiots and won't do that and the managers there will dictate that the thing that should be top-secret be instead available for $30 at Best Buy.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @05:37PM (#22018486)

    there's no way you could take a watermarked .wav file, compress it to Mp3, decompress it and expect to see any reasonable part of the original watermark left
    There is more than one way to skin a cat. What you are talking about is frequency-domain watermarking. But consider the possibility of time-domain watermarking - where certain 'events' in the recording are shifted in relation to each other by a few milliseconds. That kind of watermarking *will* survive even extreme amounts of lossy recompression.
  • by Smauler (915644) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @05:38PM (#22018492)

    This is what is wrong with the law. I was listening to Radio 1 (the largest UK radio station, run by the BBC) the other day, and one presenter had made a compilation CD for other presenters. A mention was made of the legality of it and dismissed, because the legality of it is dumb. They were breaking the law, on the largest radio station in the UK. No one cares, save idiotic music lawyers. If you care about people making copies for friends, you are dumb too.

  • by syousef (465911) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @06:28PM (#22019026) Journal
    You work for the industry and are finding yourself screwed by the industry's own DRM and living in fear due to their tactics. The things is by lending your elderly mother those disks you're commiting piracy. If you weren't doing that you wouldn't be "living in fear". Are we really suppose to have any sympathy for you? You're part of the industry that's created the problem. You get advanced releases and are in a position of trust. You do the wrong thing with them. How about the poor schmuck that pays for every movie and can't return them when they discover a manufacturing fault or worse when the entire DVD collection starts to rot? How about the schmuck that does the right thing and doesn't copy their disk only to find they have to sit through 10 minutes of brainwashing anti piracy propaganda every time they watch their movie?
  • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @08:03PM (#22019850) Homepage
    Well, I hear what you're saying but I aay let them try. With a combination of averaging, corrolation, some random noise and maybe a few more twists I doubt they'll withstand much of anything. For exameple, if you detect a timing offset, pick a random offset using those as upper and lower bound - now it won't match either and it's not reversible to figure out which samples you started with either.

    Funniest thing would be if they overdo this and start bordering on the audible domain. Then the pirates can average it away and deliver superior quality. Given their ability to shot themselves in the foot, it's not entirely unlikely...
  • This is a genius. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2008 @10:05PM (#22020712)
    The fear that you are somehow being invisibly tracked is far more effective than the actual watermarking technology.
  • by Xesdeeni (308293) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @10:31PM (#22020886)
    I've always assumed that the watermark was a low frequency thing, so that it wouldn't be filtered out by format conversion. For example, if it were done to video, it could be a slight brightening and darkening of the video over a few seconds at a very, very low frequency (say 1 Hz). That way ripping a DVD, throwing out every other field and scaling it, and converting it to DivX wouldn't destroy the data. Such a system would require a large number of frames to encode enough bits to give a unique identifier, but it seems like it would survive.

    But it just occurred to me that simply combining two different watermarked copies, perhaps switching every GOP (to use MPEG as an example) would create a third set of data that didn't make sense when decoded.

    But I my just be (probably am) oversimplifying.

    Xesdeeni
  • by Joe Jay Bee (1151309) * <jbsouthsea@noSpAm.gmail.com> on Sunday January 13, 2008 @09:58AM (#22024504)
    That's not thwarting tyranny, that's being cheap. Stop pretending otherwise.

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