Everyone once in a while, we hear people bring up the idea of "watermark" technology as an alternative to copy protection. It sounds good -- giving more freedom to users while still connecting the content to the copyright holder. Except, as we've pointed out in the past, there are tremendous problems with the solution as well. From a technology standpoint, the technology tends not to work well
. In fact, by the creators' own standards, the technology seems to suck. At the same time, from a business model standpoint, the plans don't make much sense either
. Yet, here we go again, as Sam
writes in to point out the news that Digimarc has now patented watermarking technology
that then alerts the copyright holder that its content is being used. Of course, given the earlier discussion about how the technology isn't particularly good, this patent seems more likely to hurt the watermarking concept than help it. Other companies won't be able to improve the technology without having to pay a license fee. In other words, we're now stuck with not very good technology that won't be effective because it's much more expensive to come up with a better solution.
Right after Sam's submission, Ernestas
wrote in to point out that researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have apparently just demonstrated an almost identical concept
-- which again, is hardly new. Apparently, however, everyone is suddenly interested in watermarking again -- though, it's likely that there's a patent dispute coming out of this at some point. In the meantime, watermarking still doesn't work very well, degrades the quality of the content, and creates the same problem as DRM in discouraging the promotional aspects of content. It's nicer than DRM in that it doesn't restrict people directly, but it still treats everyone like criminals first.