Standards needed for media watermarks

Standards needed for media watermarks

Summary: Watermarks: A better DRM than DRM itself? What a GREAT idea!

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TOPICS: Piracy
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Watermarks: A better DRM than DRM itself? What a GREAT idea!

Since the explosion of casual multimedia piracy across the Internet, which began with Napster just a few years ago, it's been apparent that the RIAA (and, more recently, the MPAA) is fighting a losing battle by trying to "fight fire with fire."

Anyone who went to college in the 1970's knows that the audio cassette first made it possible (and cost-effective) for you and your friends to share the cost of a record album. Few of us even considered the possibility that we were breaking the law (which, of course, we were.) The RIAA responded by embracing the audio cassette. Even though it provided incrementally poorer audio quality, it was a huge hit. The price was right and the quality was acceptable -- but large-scale redistribution was inconvenient. The industry learned to accept casual piracy of high-quality audio recordings on vinyl because they made it up in high-volume sales of low-cost, but lower-quality audio cassettes.

Remember the days when PC software vendors spent months to develop crippling copy protection schemes that were broken by hackers in a matter of hours? Software vendors eventually reined in the bulk of the piracy not with draconian measures but with reasonable licensing fees and straightforward protections which made it easy for the license holder to use the software within the terms of the license. Providing free, or nearly free, plug-ins, readers, or stripped down versions of their full-featured products made it unprofitable for pirates to steal full versions and attempt to resell them to legitimate users with limited needs.

What both industries came to realize is that by lowering their prices and providing the functionality needed by many of their customers they could tolerate a minimal amount of petty theft while putting the pirates-for-profit out of business in most jurisdictions where copyrights are generally respected by the authorities.

The RIAA and MPAA made matters worse by lobbying the Congress to pass the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made many casual users of popular material petty thieves for trying to deliver their duly-licensed multimedia more conveniently. Instead of embracing and leveraging the very technology which allows high volume theft of high-quality materials, the RIAA and MPAA have returned to those days when even the honest folks were "thieves" and the for-profit pirates went on about their merry way. Instead, the RIAA and MPAA should be using the technology to enhance the distribution options of its customers. By leveraging this new-found distribution channel, these copyright holders could dramatically increase their volume of customers while at the same time dramatically lowering their distribution costs. All one needs to do is look at the distribution model used by vendors of printed copyright material, like eReader.com, to understand the potential rewards of this kind of approach.

Unfortunately, the DCMA paved the way for DRM and missed the point entirely. There are (and always have been) laws against the theft of copyrighted materials. Fair Use made it possible for the legitimate user to make casual copies for their own use under certain reasonable and easy to follow guidelines. The problem is enforcement, and DRM is one of those "throw the baby out with the bathwater" kinds of solutions which makes everyone who wants a more convenient solution a potential criminal. Instead of aiding enforcement, DRM cripples enforcement by creating a market for 'workarounds' -- and the DCMA makes possession and sale of those 'workarounds' illegal -- even if you own a legitimate copy of the material in question. Making the punishment far worse than the crime for most casual users.

If we assume for the moment that over 99% of the users of this new technology are either legitimate or otherwise unwittingly taking part in high-volume piracy (through peer-to-peer file sharing), then a watermark on such materials could do a great deal to alleviate the problem. How? By providing an audit trail -- a way in which the copyright holder may determine the origin of illegally distributed materials. Such a tool would, for the first time, give copyright holders a true picture of just how big the piracy problem really is. My guess is that the dollars lost to piracy are far smaller than the RIAA and MPAA would like to have you believe. Are the recipients of such materials really potential customers, unwitting victims of pirates, or are they maliciously trying to make a buck off of somebody else's efforts? I suspect that few are in it for the money.

The problem of course is the same for watermarks as it is for DRM. Unless everyone uses the same system, cross-platform solutions will not be widely available and the tool will be of limited value -- but if everyone chooses the same scheme, then all vendors of copyrighted material become subject to the whims of a single technology provider (in this case, an MS-TiVO partnership.) The only viable solution is one based upon standards like those that brought us vendor-independent Ethernet solutions (IEEE 802.3 etc.) and wireless (802.11a/b/g). We need a standards body to accept the challenge of establishing uniform multimedia watermarks -- and we need it soon.

Topic: Piracy

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19 comments
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  • When did content owners say they wanted a watermark?

    I mean feel free to make all the standard watermarks you want, but no one wants them.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Consumers will want them. (NT)

      .
      P. Douglas
      • Consumers can have then, they can have 100 of them...

        But don't expect the content OWNERS to care one bit.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
        • Remember consumers have the power to reject DRM shemes. (NT)

          .
          P. Douglas
          • Uh huh, every home with three TVs will turn them off.

            Buwahahahahaha... Don't think so.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Turn what off? Watermarking?

            Who said watermarking could be turned off by consumers? How much good would it be if watermarking could be turned of by consumers?
            P. Douglas
          • YOu suggested they would reject DRM content, I said not a chance.

            People are NOT going to boycott content. Heck, even with the flap over the "rootkit" screw up, sales haven't dropped a bit. If you are thinking the consumer is going to do anything you are sadly mistaken.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Most consumers don't understand DRM's long term restrictions

            [i]People are NOT going to boycott content. Heck, even with the flap over the "rootkit" screw up, sales haven't dropped a bit. If you are thinking the consumer is going to do anything you are sadly mistaken.[/i]

            That is because many people don?t realize how restrictive today?s DRM schemes are. If detractors of DRM were to launch a campaign against the technology, informing consumers about technology?s limitations, the detractors would undoubtedly gain sympathy from consumers.
            P. Douglas
    • It's not a matter of what content owners WANT ...

      ...it a matter of what copyright holders DON'T want! They don't want the rewards of their efforts to go to theives at their expense. I buy a song, I own the media and the right to listen to the song as much as I want. I should have the right to copy that media for my own use (under the terms of the Fair Use statutes). I DO NOT have the right to make a copy and SELL IT -- or even GIVE IT AWAY! That is what copyright is all about.
      M Wagner
  • Great Article!

    I agree that watermarks are better than DRM. I personally cringe at the prospect of using DRM protected files on my computers and devices, because of all the short and long term headaches they cause. I must admit that I like the concept of DRM, but I?ve yet to see an implementation that is satisfactory.

    I do believe that it is preferable that watermarking systems comply with standards. If watermarking systems are developed privately, then handed over to a standards body, is fine with me.

    Standards compliant watermarking systems seem important to me, because consumers are going to want to be able to move around their digital data freely, and they are going to want to be able to archive them, and use them 10 ? 20 years from now. All of this would be very difficult to do if digital data becomes encoded using DRM systems that tie data to particular machines ? whether the DRM systems are proprietary or standards compliant. Also, standards compliant watermarking systems should simplify content owners? ability to track down the illicit distribution of the content now, and 20 years from now.
    P. Douglas
    • How does a watermark protect from pirating?

      Let's see, a crook uses a machine to record (one that is not registered in anyway) and then go to the nearest WiFI hotspot (or spoof the IP addy) and put then on all the P2P sites.

      How are you going to catch anyone? Arrest everyone that ever ate at Mc D's?????
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • No answer?

        If you can't answer this then why would anyone trust it?
        No_Ax_to_Grind
      • By allowing content owners to track illicit sources of media

        [i]Let's see, a crook uses a machine to record (one that is not registered in anyway) and then go to the nearest WiFI hotspot (or spoof the IP addy) and put then on all the P2P sites.[/i]

        Please read [url=http://www.zdnet.com/5208-10537-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=15756&messageID=312968&start=-1]this comment[/url]. As I indicated in the comment I just referenced, at the very least, watermarking should dramatically decrease the amount of illicit sources of content found on the Internet. This should allow law enforcement to be able to more successfully track much fewer sources. Also, if equipment manufacturers employ watermarking systems, a stolen piece of equipment could encode the device?s serial number, which could aid in the tracking of equipment, and from there, the source of the illicit media.
        P. Douglas
        • You didn't answer the question at all.

          "watermarking should dramatically decrease the amount of illicit sources of content found on the Internet."

          How???

          There are something like 600 million PCs out there right now that can capture a TV program. All that is needed is to spoof the IP address or go to McDs., or any other wiless spot on the planet. There is NOTHING for law enforcement to trace.

          And as we both know, all it takes is for one person to load it on a P2P site and it's over.

          Now tell me again how a watermark stops this???
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • I'm not claiming watermarking to be 100% effective

            [i]There are something like 600 million PCs out there right now that can capture a TV program. All that is needed is to spoof the IP address or go to McDs., or any other wiless spot on the planet. There is NOTHING for law enforcement to trace.[/i]

            The point is that as manufacturers begin to watermark content, more and more content will become traceable. Now if content becomes traceable, authorities have the ability to determine the sources of the content, and knock on people?s door to determine why their content is on the Internet. No one is saying that watermarking is foolproof. (DRM is not foolproof either. DRM protected files can be broken into and distributed on the Internet as well.) However in totality, watermarking is a much better system for consumers, and ultimately also for content providers.
            P. Douglas
      • The same way that DRM stops pirating

        Answer: it doesn't.

        Yet that doesn't seem to stop you from touting DRM schemes as a
        solution.
        tic swayback
      • It's the trail of breadcrumbs tha counts.

        A well-designed watermark would indicate who owns THAT COPY of the material. If vendors can put a unique serial on an ethernet card, they can do the same on a CD, or on an individual song. If the vendor finds even one copy of a watermarked song which is NOT in the possession of the owner, they KNOW it was illegally distributed. Isolated cases can be ignored but 100,000 copies of the same watermarked song and you can go to the person who bought it and charge them. It's simple straightforward, and undeniable.
        M Wagner
  • Great Article!

    I agree that watermarks are better than DRM. I personally cringe at the prospect of using DRM protected files on my computers and devices, because of all the short and long term headaches they cause. I must admit that I like the concept of DRM, but I?ve yet to see an implementation that is satisfactory.

    I do believe that it is preferable that watermarking systems comply with standards. If watermarking systems are developed privately, then handed over to a standards body, is fine with me.

    Standards compliant watermarking systems seem important to me, because consumers are going to want to be able to move around their digital data freely, and they are going to want to be able to archive them, and use them 10 ? 20 years from now. All of this would be very difficult to do if digital data becomes encoded using DRM systems that tie data to particular machines ? whether the DRM systems are proprietary or standards compliant. Also, standards compliant watermarking systems should simplify content owners? ability to track down the illicit distribution of the content now, and 20 years from now.
    P. Douglas
  • marc, why don't you answer the question?

    When did the OWNERS say they wanted a watermark, standard or otherwise?
    No_Ax_to_Grind