Watermarking (as DRM alternative) gaining steam?

Watermarking (as DRM alternative) gaining steam?

Summary: ZDNet reader Charly Prevost spotted Digital Music News' coverage of some increased support for watermarking as an alternative to the traditional DRM approach.  A few weeks back, I described how watermarking works and why I like it.


ZDNet reader Charly Prevost spotted Digital Music News' coverage of some increased support for watermarking as an alternative to the traditional DRM approach.  A few weeks back, I described how watermarking works and why I like it.  According to Digital Music News:

Most recently, P2P industry trade group DCIA (Distributed Computing Industry Association) has thrown its weight behind the concept by forming the P2P Digital Watermark Working Group. "Digital watermarking has been widely deployed by all major music labels and movie studios for forensic tracking, and has been deployed by major studios for copy protection and by broadcasters as well as studios for broadcast monitoring," DCIA chief Marty Lafferty recently wrote in an open letter to the content and technology industries. "There are presently billions of watermarked objects in the market."...DCIA currently carries a membership of 72 companies.

It's an interesting development but I don't expect the digital media cartel to budge because of the launch of this new group (see the press release).  Especially when the US government is leaning in the direction of pro-DRM legislation.  The only thing that can change the cartels' minds is the sort of public outrage that was sparked by the Sony BMG root-kit debacle.  For that to happen, we'll need a few very public DRM trainwrecks with a lot of carnage.  Most people don't seem interested in heeding the anti-DRM warnings that are turning up all over the Net right now.

Topic: Legal

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  • Watermarking has promise...

    ...provided it can't be stripped out. If every song I purchase is stamped with my identifying details, then I can be held liable if it ends up on a file trading network.

    Of course, the trick is making it impossible to remove. It occurs to me, though, that the same problem is faced by DRM solutions.
    John Carroll
    • Imposible to keep something protected

      Once you release content to the public, it can't be protected. I'm not even talking about the "analog hole". There are actually special sound drivers and applications that allow you to dump the digital sound to a WAV file.

      Now if analog artifacts were placed in to the music in the form of a water mark, then that would work. But in my experience, water marking affects the quality.
      • But...

        ...the same argument could be made with DRM. DRM has gotten harder to work around, and watermarking could, too. Then again, if a watermark can be identified, that would imply the ability to remove it. Perhaps some kind of crypto-signing is in order, I'm not sure, though then we start to dance into DRM land, which is what David is trying to avoid.

        Yes, you can dump audio to wav files under current computer architectures, but future TCPM (think that's the acronym) architectures are supposed to make this "impossible" (not the quotes).

        Watermarking may affect the quality, but then again, so does audio compression such as MP3, WMA, etc. The question is whether it affects the quality sufficiently to be noticable to human ears.
        John Carroll
        • Or rather...

          ...noticable to the extent that it is bothersome. I can tell the difference between a CD and an MP3 file. Not enough to make me ditch digital music, but it's there.
          John Carroll
          • MP3 != good compression

            Windows Media Audio pro for example uses lower bit rates than CD audio or WAV files, but it's much nicer since it's 96 KHz samples per second @ 24 bits per sample.

            Compression give better bang/bit which means it gives you better quality at the same or even slightly less bit rates.
          • True, but...

            ...bit rate isn't always an issue. It's not an issue when I'm playing music stored on my computer. It is an issue when playing it live on the internet, but that won't apply to most people who purchase digital music.

            So, yes, you can get a better sampling frequency at lower bitrates with compression, but if I don't NEED a lower bitrate, then the compression is just a clarity-reducing cost.
            John Carroll
          • Bang/bit is always an issue

            I'll take a Windows Media Audio Pro 96 KHz @ 24 bits over a raw uncompressed WAV file any day.

            As for watermarkings, I don't care what kind of DRM they do so long as they don't affect the quality of the audio and they don't make it rediculously difficult for me to backup or move my music from my living room to my car. Just don't touch the quality.

            If the industry wants to force the issue, then the customer will bolt. DRM is a very sensitive balancing act. There is no perfect DRM, but it can be used to keep honest people honest. But applying too many restrictions and giving consumers a lower quality product is just flat out disrespectful to the user, and they'll just either stop buying music or they'll figure out how to work around the restrictions.
          • What's the point?

            Keeping honest people honest. They already are honest. So what's the point? Isn't DRM to force dishonest people to be honest and it's proving not to work?
    • You mean the rootkit problem, right?

      "Of course, the trick is making it impossible to remove. It occurs to me, though, that the same problem is faced by DRM solutions."

      You're referring to Sony's XCP and MediaMax DRM fiasco, right? But even if watermarking becomes impossible to remove, you can still make as many traceable copies as you want, which is what DRM either limits or outright denies you(think Coldplay's X&Y album). The only people who would have any interest in stripping watermarks are real pirates, since they don't want to be traced.
      Tony Agudo
      • What if you don't like artifacts?

        Water marking reduces quality since there are artifacts.
        • Not necessarily

          [i]Water marking reduces quality since there are artifacts.[/i]

          Not always. There is some redundancy in the coding for an audio track, thanks to the fact that there are some values with two possible representations.

          If you go to SACD, it's even more so since an SACD stream isn't even (technically speaking) encoded -- it's just the binary stream from an oversampling ADC, which is far from unique for a given audio signal.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Depends on what kind

            I'm not sure with the audio world, but image water marks are carried in to the analog world and is traceable even if you print an image. The argument for image water marking was that it wasn't visible to the naked eye and I bought in to it for a while until I tried water marks myself. The image quality with water marking and it was clearly visible.

            If they?re trying to make water marks for music that is traceable even after the conversion to analog, then I have a HUGE problem with that because of quality issues.
          • Water marks vs. Watermarks

            Water marks in the printing and lithography world are [i]intended[/i] to be visible to the human eye.

            Watermarking in the electronic sense is more akin to steganography: invisible due to the limited resolution of human sensory equipment.

            Steganography is actually a reliable method of "hiding in plain sight" message cryptography, to the extent that the NSA treats it with respect.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Invisible?

            If it were really invisible or inaudible, I wouldn't have a problem with it. The problem is that digital image watermarks are clearly visible to me in the form of ugly artifacts.

            But we?re talking about music here. If the music industry wants to punish legitimate users and legitimate uses, then people will go out of their way to circumvent them or just flat out stop buying music. This is not the way to treat customers.
        • Ah, true!

          You're right on that point. Audiophiles and professional photographers won't like it, like how pure audiophiles prefer WAV over MP3 because the compression reduces the quality, so it's a tradeoff.

          But DRM, as we've seen with Sony, can be maliciously abused. As you said, the problem with watermarking is artifacts. A good watermarking system should make as minimal an impact on quality as possible.
          Tony Agudo
          • Compression can give better quality at same bit rate

            What I don?t want any artifacts that don?t buy me anything. If I paid for the music, I want the quality to be as good as possible. Compression offers the nice tradeoff of being able to use higher resolution music. A one MB JPG image for example will always be nicer than a 1 MB uncompressed BMP file due to the higher resolution that JPEG affords. Audio compression is nice in the sense that you can use 96 KHz 24-bit audio (Windows Media Audio Pro format for example) while using less bit rate than 44.1 KHz 16-bit audio WAV files.

            The point is that compression can offer better quality at comparable bit rates while watermarking only gives me ugly artifacts.
          • Okay, point taken

            ...but is the watermarking truly noticable. You noticed the effect of watermarking on your images, but obviously, ears have different characteristics, and the watermark may have no noticable effect. For instance, if most of the watermarking was done at the extreme high end, with some important bits lower down so as not to make removal as easy as "clip at this frequency," maybe that would work.

            I don't have any idea what is involved in making a proper audio watermark that can't be removed, but still, but if the tradeoff is no perceptible audio degradation in exchange for automatic ability to play anywhere you want to, I bet most would accept that tradeoff.

            The reason I back DRM is that I want a vibrant music economy in the digital world. Watermarking might be another way to reach the same goal, and one that raises fewer hackles.
            John Carroll
          • You answered your own question

            "with some important bits lower down so as not to make removal as easy as"

            And there is your quality loss. Once you start messing with the audible range, you reduce quality. The bottom line is that if the watermark is effective, then it's too much quality loss. If the quality loss can't be noticed, then the watermark can be stripped.

            The best way to do business is to offer digital music at a good price and not treat your customers like criminals while feeding them an inferior quality product.
          • What's not noticible.

            There are only 2 ways that I can think of to make an audio watermark inaudible.
            1. Put it above or below human hearing frequency <20 hz or >20khz.
            2. Put it below the noise threshold of hearing. Less than -110db or so.

            Both these things can be easily filtered out without affecting the sound. It's by definition. If you can't hear the watermark you can't hear that it's been removed and that's exactly the problem. For a watermark to work it needs to be both inaudible and destroy the listening quality if it's removed. Can't be done.
          • The Problem With Both

            Is that in order to make them work you have to make current analog to digital convertors against the law and current digital recorder technology has to be banned.

            Once the signal is converted into analog form manipulation and filterting of the sound, such as passing it through a filter is fairly easy. Also note that not only would you have to ban the manufacture of these filters http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/vol_2/chpt_8/4.html you would need to make it ilegal for people to make their own http://www.discovercircuits.com/A/a-filter-band.htm . Also any commercial soundboard manufactured in the last 60 years has the ability to filter sound in this manner- many Universities and JuCos are still converting their equipment and you could probably purchase a very well used board for a pittance or get one from free by dumpster diving or asking for it.

            If you ban digital recording devices then it raises a constitutional issue to challange the law as that would prevent artist and amatures from creating new works of art and from exercising speach. It would be the same as banning word processors and typewriters.

            Also the RIAA and MPAA are not really intrested in just watermarks. They want to control how you can use your materials. this is the entire reason behind the DMCA Access control provisions- they get to control how and where you watch your media. The DMCA was pushed by the Cable Companies, The BSA, and the *AA's as the cable companies wanted a way to enforce and expand Pay Per View. PPV does not work if you can record the PPV and watch it again.

            Anyhow where they are headed with their lobying actions is to require both watermarks, more DRM, making it ilegal for you to build your own equipment, banning the manufacture and selling analog to digital to non profesionals (Profesional is defined as not vailable to the general public), requiring encryption on everything, and moving the copyright office from the Library of Congress to the Commerce Department- merging it with the USPTO.

            Read this and get mad http://www.behardware.com/articles/603-1/hdcp-the-graphic-card-and-monitor-nightmare.html

            read the proposed legislation and let your bloods boil



            and the best parts;

            "Unlike the DTV broadcast flag proposal, the RIAA?s proposal does not even purport to prevent the indiscriminate Internet redistribution of copyrighted content. Instead, RIAA?s proposal would severely restrict actions that are perfectly legal and have been common for decades."


            "The proposal requires that all content be encrypted. No exceptions are made for works not under copyright. It locks away not only music, but news programs and talk radio as well. The proposal isn?t limited to radio broadcasts only; it also mandates encryption for satellite audio services such as Sirius or XM Radio."
            Edward Meyers