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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 mfh (56) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:45PM (#22015950) Homepage Journal
    When p2p groups apply simple scramble audio sequences that can't be heard. Better yet, when you burn a song onto a CD as an audio file, and then re-rip the song (as recently disclosed by Sony), then you get a clean copy.

    But go ahead and spend billions on that idea of yours. I'm sure that people who want to thwart the tyranny will simply come up with a way to get this stuff for free.

    What they really need to do is make some music that's worth paying for.
  • by spikenerd (642677) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:46PM (#22015960)
    Download it under two accounts, then average the waves together. The watermark will be ruined, and the sound quality will stay at least as good as before. Problem solved. Of course you'll have to pay twice, but if you're paying the right price, 2x0=0.
  • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:49PM (#22016008)
    "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."

    Watermarks provide very little security, since you can find them just by comparing a few copies of the same file. 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.

    So they're both useless and harmful.
  • by Franklin Brauner (1034220) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:13PM (#22016332)
    I'm an Academy member (AMPAS), and I can tell you that the only benefit of membership is that at year end they send you every movie made that year on DVD. It's quite nice. There's a mad December-January rush to cram in every possible film. I'd hate to lose my membership because the DVD I loaned to my friends were ripped and torrented all over Christendom. The Academy is now in the habit of unceremoniously kicking out members when it's found that they've contributed to the piracy of a film (many are pre-release). So I'm usually fairly cautious.

    A couple of years ago, Cinea (a Technicolor company) sent out a free DVD player with a powerful DRM/encryption, and many of the movies that came out were suddenly playable only on that machine. This was a hassle, as I was on a job and traveling frequently, and consequently missed a number of smaller films before the January 12 nominating deadline (coincidentally, today). I also hated the ergonomics of that damned player -- the remote was impossible to use in darkened conditions. Anyhow, it was a hassle. And well over half of the movies sent to us were specially encoded to only play on my specific registered player. The other percentage of discs usually favored watermarking.

    Cut to this year, suddenly everything is watermarking and there's not a Cinea encrypted disc to be seen. Cinea doesn't support their machine and I'm stuck with this crap player that I had my son beat it to death with a sledgehammer the other day, as I videotaped the ceremony. I'm throwing away all of the past Award seasons discs, which are useless to me now. From my perspective, I'm totally cool with watermarking. However, I frequently lend movies to my elderly mother -- and I'm always living in fear that one of her tennis friends is going to talk my mother into loaning the movie to her, thusly exposing the DVD to possibilities of piracy (who knows what goes on in the houses of my mother's tennis friends) -- risking the one benefit I have of being an Academy member.

    So is this what we're reduced to? Living in fear and paranoia as if in a police state? Will Big Brother find my name/number attached to a rip online and bust my ass down to the basement? I don't, as an Academy member, believe that trading movies with your friends is piracy. As a kid we used to do it with VHS all the time. But, it's not lost on me that I lose residuals every time a movie doesn't get legitimately purchased. This is America however, I'll take the paranoia that comes with watermarking any day over the inconvenience of encryption tied to specific proprietary players.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:27PM (#22016502)
    Or worse, that averaging of the two waves might make the watermark equal some 3rd watermark that belongs to John Doe in another state who then has to take the blame if the modified mp3 ends up on p2p networks. I'll still rip my own from CDs ktkzbye.
  • Re:Only A Short Time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cheesey (70139) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:33PM (#22016556)
    What would a "way around" the watermark do? Presumably it would allow you to share the music you bought without the possibility of it being traced back to you. However, unlike DRM, there is no way to be sure if you have removed every watermark. If today's watermarking techniques are successfully reverse engineered, the industry can introduce new techniques without breaking compatibility with CD players etc. And in any case, removing watermarks might degrade the quality of the recording. There might be more than one watermark in each file, and some watermarks might be present in multiple copies of the same recording in order to defeat a simple differencing attack.

    Watermarking is a good idea, I say. In the end I want people to be able to make money from intellectual property, whether it is music, software, video, books, whatever. But information is easily copied, so there is a need to discourage piracy without inconveniencing paying customers. DRM doesn't meet that need, but maybe watermarking does.
  • by dangil (167785) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:46PM (#22016712)
    I developed a very basic spread spectrum frequency domain watermarking that can resist to reencoding and be very transparent spreading the bits of information across different frequencies. if you analyze the encoding, you can use the frequencies that the encoder gives more importance and store bits there for increased reenconding strength. or you can use less important frequencies to really hide the watermarking, and also assure that the audio wasn't reencoded or touched. the spread spectrum technology can assure that you distort the minimum amount possible each frequency. and by choosing random frequencies for each audio frame, based on a pseudo-random number generator, you can really hide the watermarking... using CDMA techniques , if you don't know what you are looking for, when comparing the watermarked audio with a clean sample, you will only recover some noise.

  • by schmiddy (599730) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:46PM (#22016714) Homepage Journal

    I doubt per-user watermarks will ever catch on for mainstream media, such as mass produced CDs or DVDs, because when you're pressing hundreds of thousands of discs it makes things a hell of a lot easier to have them all be identical. Maybe they'd catch on for downloads.. but if you could just buy and rip a CD of the same song anyway, it's kind of pointless (though the music industry is pretty dumb..)

    However, one place they're finally catching on, that I'm amazed has taken them so long, is in pre-release DVD screeners. I hear that if you check out a DVD screener of "I am Legend" floating around, you'll see messages at the bottom saying "This movie is intended only for pre-screening and is digitally watermarked". Perhaps they're also sneaking it into pre-release CDs intended for DJs or production artists as well, I don't know.

    Also, to the people claiming you could just download the MP3 from two accounts.. that's a good idea, provided they don't have a simple parity scheme in place. You also can't easily download from two accounts, or get two DVDs, in the case of special pre-releases intended for a very limited audience.

  • by Reziac (43301) * on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:46PM (#22016726) Homepage Journal
    What happens to such a watermark if the file is significantly reprocessed?

  • Re:Trust (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vtcodger (957785) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:48PM (#22016750)
    ***What's the point of individual watermarking if it can't be traced to an individual?***

    Non-individualized watermarks won't tell anyone if you are deliberately using illegal copies in your music or movie collection. In all probability, everyone's collection will include some illegal copies. Even the collections of people who actually TRY to stay legal. But watermarks should help in identifying people who are systematically selling or renting illegal copies. If Sleazy Sammy's Junkmart has 200 copies of the same CD with the same watermark in the warehouse, it's a pretty safe bet that Sammy or his supplier is making illegal copies. Judges and juries will likely see it that way also.

    Maybe, just maybe, we'll end up with something everyone can live with. The AAs ignore low level personal file sharing, and the serious pirates do jail time. I wouldn't bet on it though.

    I'm in favor of ANYTHING that might stop wasting my time with copy protection/prevention schemes that don't work well and/or right and/or prevent me from backing up their fragile distribution media. That would seem to be all of them.

  • by Duncan Blackthorne (1095849) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:57PM (#22016864)
    ..offer the RIAA an easy way to frame anyone..

    But, the RIAA will likely be going away soon [slashdot.org], so no worries there ;)

  • by Speare (84249) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:06PM (#22016972) Homepage Journal

    In the real watermarking scheme, every single byte is changed. Basically the entire thing is covered with a huge watermark that is noise, with randomly and sparsely distributed blocks of the actual watermark. So finding identical bytes does not work.

    You don't need to erase the watermark. You need to break it, or produce plausible deniability. If you take ten copies of a 3min song, and concatenate chunks from each in 18sec blocks, then either the watermark will be unparsable, or it will implicate ten different people for small portions instead of one person for the whole song.

  • by Reziac (43301) * on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:15PM (#22017084) Homepage Journal
    True -- whether through malware or counterfeit watermarks, it creates a risk of bogus prosecution.

    So as I say above, don't use watermarking as a stick to prevent filesharing. Use it as a carrot to encourage *purposeful* filesharing (ie. as "free-sample" advertising aimed directly at your target market, and best of all at zero expense). Have each file include an ID3-link to a shopping cart, and whenever a sale is made, give a small reward to the *original* filesharer, whom we ID by a hash in the link to the shopping cart.

    Yeah, there'll be some ID-link fraud, but so long as the money comes in from sales, what do you-the-vendor care?

  • How does that work? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ratboy666 (104074) <fred_weigel@ h o t m a i l .com> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:36PM (#22017310) Homepage Journal
    Assume a perfect watermarking system.

    First transfer -- music is sold to someone else. Is the watermark ownership transferred?

    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?

    So of what use IS the watermark?
  • by lakeland (218447) <lakeland@acm.org> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:07PM (#22017614) Homepage
    Perhaps.

    It would be easy enough to test, grab a whole lot of students and get them to rate the music they're listening to. Use a standard double blind test with the clean music and the watermarked music, and look for a significant increase in rank for the clean version.
  • by Mark J Tilford (186) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:12PM (#22017662)
    Poor neglectd letter "s".
  • by earlymon (1116185) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @06:01PM (#22018738) Homepage Journal
    OK, I've followed this issue closely over the year, have R.lots.TFA - but now, unless I've been missing something, a whole new level of smoke-screening has been added to the subject.

    In the referenced article, watermarking now has two attributes (not the only two, no anal please): 1) method exists from large player (in this case, Microsoft) to add digital info to a media file that cannot be circumvented; 2) this info can be used by media distributers to, for example, to give the music industry power to prove pirating or to trace the illegal move of media across the net (goes hand-in-glove with ISP filtering, so the article indirectly said that, whether it meant to or not).

    Now, even though the article and everyone here is acknowledging the death of DRM and discussing watermarks - I think it's propaganda and a lot of people are buying.

    How is the watermarking discussed here _NOT_ DRM?

    Think about it. DRM was not an attempt to lock down media on a single platform (read on before shouting, please). DRM is an attempt to control pirating where the media industry wants to prove and control piracy and prosecute those sharing. Its first incarnation was lock-down on a per-platform basis, which from a business sense is pretty smart - saving money on lawyers and putting things on technology's backs. I think this is just the next incarnation, where they can still put the burden on the backs of others, but now give their lawyers - especially their I-told-you-so lawyers - the technical muscle to be much less embarrassed in court over digital forensic screw-ups.

    And to me it seems like they're succeeding. I remember when the debate in the early days was a) how easy DRM would be to circumvent so no one would take it seriously, b) consumers wouldn't stand for it, c) there's nothing wrong with it if it were implemented properly, and d) _no one_ here condones pirates, it doesn't interfere with the digital stream too badly, so this may be an acceptable course of action if done right.

    So. To me, this thread sounds like the exact same discussions, with s/DRM/watermark/g.

    Somebuddy square me away, please. How is this not DRM Phase II and a propaganda victory for the dark media overlords? I don't get it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 12, 2008 @08:26PM (#22020028)

    On the other hand, how could watermarks be used to track unauthorized distribution of the content if all watermarks are the same?
    Simple.

    * The RIAA gives your ISP a system that scans everything you upload or download looking for these watermarks. If they find any watermarked content, they block the transfer and notify the RIAA so they can sue you.

    * Microsoft works with the RIAA to integrate code into Windows that scans your hard disk looking for these watermarks. If you have watermarked media and no digital receipt showing you bought that media, then Windows blocks playback of that media and notifies the RIAA so they can sue you.
  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @08:27PM (#22020044) Journal
    The law is 17 USC 602(a). But you're right, it doesn't apply to a Canadian carrying the work in, as there's a specific personal use exception for that which I hadn't checked for.

    In the US, the way it works is that if the copy was acquired legally, then it is legal to import for personal use, but not for resale.


    The way it works is that if the copy was authorized by the copyright owner in that other country, it is legal to import (and to resell). That was the holding in 523 U.S. 135 (1998). This does not apply to unauthorized copies which were legal in the other country, because the case was about the doctrine of "copyright exhaustion", not about whether the copy was legal.

    The personal use exemption in 17 USC 602(a) is broad enough to allow even pirated copies to be imported for personal use, but the relevant regulations don't reflect that.

  • by syousef (465911) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @09:36PM (#22020536) Journal
    He's violating the conditions of being given those disks - conditions which the industry imposes much more harshly on outsiders. Furthermore his worry is that his mother will lend out the disks against his wishes and therefore allow them to be copied which is piracy. Therefore he would be cut off for aiding the piracy. This is why he lives in fear.

    The solution is simple. He's not meant to be lending out the disks to his mother, so he shouldn't do that. No paranoia or fear required. If he thinks these conditions aren't reasonable well then perhaps he ought to complain to the powers that be in the industry he's part of. After all if he's getting those disks its because his opinion counts in some way, not because the movie industry likes to give them away for charity. He's in a much better position to change the situation than an outsider.

    So how about you stop your trolling long enough to get the mud out of your ears and the shit out of our brains, and perhaps learn some social skills so that you don't come across as an anal trolling git with the social skills of a hungry grizzly bear. Or more succinctly: Grow the fuck up.
  • by iamacat (583406) on Sunday January 13, 2008 @01:30AM (#22022032)
    So about as secure as a doorless prison with no guards.

    Good choice of a metaphor, and I would love to see this implemented for least serious offenders. Hardened criminals would of course run, but many people would server a short (say, 3 year) term knowing that their acceptance in the society afterwards would be dramatically improved by knowledge that they did the time willingly.

    Similarly, if RIAA had any sense, they would use watermarks to communicate with casual offenders and outside court system. The first time a watermark from a P2P site matches someone, send them a letter telling them that they are either breaking the law or their system is hacked, putting them at serious risk for identity theft. Offer to replace their music with a different watermark free of charge. The next time, contact their school, their employee and a local newspaper to put their reputation in question with credible evidence which may be short of legal proof.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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