As Expected, Labels Now Want To Use Privacy-Reducing Watermarks As 'Cloud DRM'

from the good-luck-with-that dept

For quite some time now, the record labels have believed that if they couldn't put old school copy protection on music files, the "next best thing" would be watermarks. This idea started showing up more than five years ago and when iTunes finally went DRM free, we were among those who pointed out that the files still contained identifying watermarks, in that the files themselves included info on who purchased the files. Two years ago we pointed out how these were a serious problem from a privacy perspective and it was best not to go down that road.

Surprise, surprise. The industry didn't listen.

As a bunch of you are submitting, with streaming/cloud music suddenly becoming popular, apparently the record labels are demanding that companies use such watermarks as a new type of privacy-invading DRM:
The labels, say our source, are demanding that a user can only stream music that is watermarked to their username. Change the username, or try to stream music that you've ripped from a CD, and those songs won't play.
While a bunch of people submitting this seem to think the watermarking is new, it's not. That part of the story has been known for years. But what is new (if not surprising) is that the labels are trying to lock up streaming services by using the watermarks as a weak form of DRM. Of course, like any form of DRM it won't work. Instead, it will annoy legitimate users who are stopped from listening to music they legally obtained the rights to. And, on top of that, it will put their privacy at risk. And for what purpose?

New decade. Same story.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    KnownHuman (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 1:58pm

    Not Actually Watermarking

    From what I can tell, it's not actually watermarking, just attached metadata. I don't know if it's similar to the ID3 metadata scheme or not, but it should be rather easy to alter. I've never had to do so - as I've never purchased anything from the offending retailers - but like most music geeks, I've gone through and done the corrects to my collections metadata by hand.

    The upside to all this is, changing the metadata - either by removing your own details for privacy reasons, or adding details to make a track compatible with a cloud-based DRM scheme - doesn't seem to be a violation of the DMCA, at least not on the surface.

     

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  2.  
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    baditup (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:04pm

    Confused for a sec...

    Thanks for that clarification, KnownHuman. I was thinking of aural watermarks similar to demo, pre-release tracks but maybe something inaudible. Besides, if there IS metadata attached to purchased mp3s, it couldn't be that hard to remove or edit it, right? They're just part of the ID3 tags, right? Also, what, then, if someone converts it to a WAV? wavs don't have metadata. Then right back into an mp3, no big... whatever... as long as there are intelligent humans and/or analog devices, NOTHING digital has a chance. There's always an easy way around everything digital... Don't much like this idea though. Incredible breach of privacy, imho.

     

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  3.  
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    Rable, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:30pm

    I did hear of digital watermarking, and not only metadata marking. Metadata gets used by a lot of retailers to advertise. I have never met any watermark, of realized i owned a watermarked digital song, but it could only be done in 2 ways. One would be to add subtle percussion lines or other unnoticable things to the tracks. This would be altering the original song though, and i hope not one retailer ever even thinks about that. The other would be to add unhearable frequencies to the tracks, but these would be removed if the track get encoded to other bitrate or encoder. So there is still a technical difficulty, since every streaming service i know of, does transcode uploaded files to lower bitrates to spare bandwidth...

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:40pm

    you move house but you dont move your computer. you dont have the right to go to the store and steal another one.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:43pm

    They could add a subsonic or hypersonic layer to an audio file with a digital signal or some other marker. Most people wouldn't be able to hear it since it's beyond our range.

    Although I admit I don't know how well that'd transfer over during compression to MP3 or AAC or some other format.

     

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  6.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Confused for a sec...

    Hmmm...an aural watermark? Sounds perfect for user tailored subliminal advertising.

     

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  7.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:51pm

    Re: MP3 Compression

    The point of mp3 compression is to remove the things your ears wouldn't hear--thereby creating a smaller file of only sound you can hear. (Or, at least within minimum/maximum cited aural ranges for humans).

    This is how I understand it--though I may be wrong.

     

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  8.  
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    senshikaze (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:54pm

    Re:

    analogy fail.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 2:55pm

    Re: You move house but you don't move your computer...

    Anti-Mike, is that you? If so, darling, put down the crack pipe and step away from the computer keyboard. The nice men in white coats with the big nets are going to knock on your front door in just a minute...

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:07pm

    Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    From what I can tell, it's not actually watermarking, just attached metadata.

    Umm, that's what watermarks *are*.

    I don't know if it's similar to the ID3 metadata scheme or not, but it should be rather easy to alter.

    "Easy" is relative, and doesn't make it legal.

    The upside to all this is, changing the metadata - either by removing your own details for privacy reasons, or adding details to make a track compatible with a cloud-based DRM scheme - doesn't seem to be a violation of the DMCA, at least not on the surface.

    I disagree. It would clearly be an illegal DMCA violation.

     

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  11.  
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    NAMELESS.ONE, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:13pm

    i have a dewatermarker for ebooks WORKS great

    and ill bet no matter what you try ill hack the crap out of your crud

    stop now and quit wasting money and maybe instead offer it cheaper so that people can afford it.

    ALSO drop terms on copyrights to 14 years and quit whining you lazy whiners.

     

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  12.  
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    reboog711 (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:18pm

    New Decade?

    I guess any ten year span could be considered a decade; but...

    Mathematically speaking; the next decade doesn't start until January 1st, 2011.

    the Gregorian Calendar started counting at year 1; so 1-10 is a decade; and the next decade starts in year 11. 11-20 is another decade and the next decade starts in year 21. And so on..

     

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  13.  
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    otb (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:20pm

    reboog beat me to it.

    Next year.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Re: You move house but you don't move your computer...

    That's an insult to the insane.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: You move house but you don't move your computer...

    AND CRACKHEADS!!!

     

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  16.  
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    antimatter3009 (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    Attaching metadata could be called a form of watermarking I suppose, but when I think of watermarking I think of altering the actual data portion very slightly in an identifiable way, but without a noticeable change to the audio.

     

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  17.  
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    mrharrysan (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:36pm

    AC@2:40PM

    So clueless, must be a record company exec.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:46pm

    Watermarks as DRM are just as stupid as anything else as DRM, but secret watermarks seem like the most reasonable method of actually catching the original uploaders of infringing content (e.g. pre-screening movies leaked before opening day and the like).

    In general, I don't really buy the privacy arguments: there is far more personal data about me in other parts of my ipod touch than there is in the music files. Non-DRM watermarking seems like a good compromise between the content industries' interests in catching original uploaders of infringing content (or at least the not-so-smart among them) and the public's interests in being able to make lawful use of content.

     

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  19.  
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    Richard (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 3:54pm

    Oh Dear

    A lot of confusion here.

    Basically watermarking can work in two modes.

    In the first mode the "protected" material has a watermark added that simply identifies it as "protected". All copies have exactly the same watermark. Using various cryptographic methods they attempt to make the watermark impossible to remove without distorting the material unacceptably. Some progress has been made here - although it is not entirely convincing. Of course for this to work the technology has to be crippled in some way to make it block watermarked content without some kind of "unlocking code" being present. Although the industry tried to impose this a few years back (As a means of plugging the analogue hole - remember "Fritz's Hit list" on Freedom to tinker) I think they have now given up on it.

    The second mode - which seems to be being proposed here - is where every file has a different watermark - and hence it becomes traceable back to the original purchaser.

    This is probably rather harder to do securely - since in addition to all the usual attacks you also have the possibility of comparing files with different watermarks - which makes it much easier to find the watermarks and remove them.

     

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  20.  
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    Richard (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 4:03pm

    Cloud services

    Personally I don't see the point of cloud services specifically for music - when I can simply use a general purpose digital locker (eg Dropbox) to store everything securely if I wish.

     

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  21.  
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    KnownHuman (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 4:20pm

    Re: Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    No, watermarks are data that is contained within the file itself, undetectable to the human ear and requiring a special piece of technology to access.

    This consumer-based information actually appears in the file's header, and can be accessed through any number of editing tools (including the default media players bundled into most OSes) as plain text.

    With regards to how this would be a clear DMCA violation, I'd like to see your logic on that. As stated in the DMCA Section 1201(a)(3):

    (A) to circumvent a technological measure means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner;

    Now, this data is maintained in plaintext, so there is no descrambling nor decrypting. The question then seems to fall to the issue of whether that metadata is protected under copyright - and that answer seems to be no, as the metadata itself is examples of facts.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 4:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    Attaching metadata could be called a form of watermarking I suppose,

    You've got it backwards: watermarking is a way to attach metadata, not the other way around.

     

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  23.  
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    Michael (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 4:39pm

    Watermarking process:

    Take stream A, modulate by instance variant pattern.

    Result: unique A'.

    Inverse Watermarking process:

    Obtain multiple copies of A'.

    Any common data is by definition non-identifying; copy as is.

    Any data locations for which there is not a perceptibly common point take the average of and then add a random but imperceptibly different value to.

    The resulting stream should still be within perceptible tolerance and lack the watermarks.

     

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  24.  
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    baditup (profile), Apr 7th, 2010 @ 4:41pm

    Since When...

    ... did watermarking become stealthy? I remember watermarking as something one did to paper, either obvious or otherwise, but still visible... It's altering the genuine product, NOTICEABLY, but not enough to cover information... It'd be damn near impossible to watermark a song's waveform without artifacts popping up somewhere, but also, if it was outside the audible range of frequencies, it wouldn't matter, subliminally speaking, I guess. hehe. besides, male-to-male, stereo, 3.5mm cable from speaker out to line in, press play, press record, viola... analog de-watermarking...

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 4:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    No, watermarks are data that is contained within the file itself, undetectable to the human ear and requiring a special piece of technology to access.

    None of which means that they are not metadata. You seem to be using a logical fallacy. While watermarks are a form of metadata, the converse is not necessarily true. Just as because chihuahuas are dogs does not mean that dogs are necessarily chihuahuas.

    Now, this data is maintained in plaintext, so there is no descrambling nor decrypting.

    The DMCA says "...or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner;". Notice the word "or" there. "Or" does not mean the same thing as "and" (look it up if you don't believe me). Again, another logical fault on your part.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 6:05pm

    Re: AC@2:40PM

    Just a TAM.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 6:21pm

    isn't them copying my username infringement?

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 7:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    You are building a good case for why people should not buy this product.

     

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  29.  
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    @n0nym0u5, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 7:30pm

    Re:

    You should include a watermark in your username like I did, then you can tell who is stealing your copyright.

     

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  30.  
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    @n0nym0u5 c0w@rd, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 7:31pm

    I'm in yur cloud, stealin yer copyright

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 7th, 2010 @ 9:42pm

    Re: Re: You move house but you don't move your computer...

    hi mike

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2010 @ 5:19am

    Re: Re: Confused for a sec...

    New and Improved

    Why would anyone want to purchase something which is of less quality than was available yesterday?

     

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  33.  
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    nasch (profile), Apr 8th, 2010 @ 8:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    No, watermarks are data that is contained within the file itself, undetectable to the human ear and requiring a special piece of technology to access.

    None of which means that they are not metadata.


    Yeah, it actually does. Metadata is data about the data. Watermarks are contained within the data. Therefore they are separate things. Consider the orginal use of the term - it was a mark on a physical piece of paper so you could see where it came from. It was not a note attached to the page, it was embedded in the paper. The same is true of digital watermarking.

    As wikipedia puts it, "While some file formats for digital media can contain additional information called metadata, digital watermarking is distinct in that the data is carried in the signal itself."

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

    i am unable to grasp how watermarking violates or lowers privacy, unless you share the file illegally, which would be your own fault. help.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2010 @ 3:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not Actually Watermarking

    Yeah, it actually does. Metadata is data about the data. Watermarks are contained within the data. Therefore they are separate things.

    False conclusion. Being contained within the data does not mean watermarks are not metadata. Indeed, they are a form of embedded metadata. Since you cited Wikipedia, perhaps you should have read the article on metadata over there too to save yourself the embarrassment of looking ignorant. From Wikipedia: "Metadata can be stored either internally, in the same file as the data, or externally, in a separate file. Metadata that is embedded with content is called embedded metadata."

    As wikipedia puts it, "While some file formats for digital media can contain additional information called metadata, digital watermarking is distinct in that the data is carried in the signal itself."

    Yes, it is a distinct type of embedded metadata. And because a Chihuahua is a distinct type of dog does not mean that it is not also a dog. Logic isn't your strong suit, is it?

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2010 @ 3:10pm

    Re:

    i am unable to grasp how watermarking violates or lowers privacy, unless you share the file illegally, which would be your own fault.

    Because illegal sharing is not the only way the data can be exposed. There are many others and having personal information embedded in your music files makes you much more vulnerable to them.

    help.

    If you weren't trolling, then consider yourself "helped". :)

     

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