Watermark Technology For Copyright Monitoring Now Patented

from the this-again? dept

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.

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Comments on “Watermark Technology For Copyright Monitoring Now Patented”

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Neal says:

My two patents

Tomorrow, I’m applying for a patent on using watermark technology to drive customers away from business and business models. Thursday I should be ready to patent the use of DRM for the same purpose.

I won’t be stepping on these guys toes because my use is the complete polar opposite of theirs. Even better, I’ll become an instant millionaire because my patents will apply to all such technologies to come.

Jack says:

I am Jack

I am Jack’s utter disappointment.

Watermarks do NOT treat customers as criminals. EVERYTHING that is worth something that I buy as a consumer has a serial number. This serial number does many things and means different things to different people. Not once has a serial number ever made me feel like a criminal.

Watermarks do not discourage the use of content as promotion either. What they do is allow the copyright owner to DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES whether or not the content should be used as a promotion (and also track its effectiveness by monitoring popularity as it shows up in the p2p realms).

While I agree that watermarking doesn’t make sense in every usage scenario, I am completely utterly confused as to why you think there is any downside to watermarks besides the cost associated with them. Why should I feel like a criminal?

Rick says:

What if....

What if my portable mp3 player, containing all my legally purchased and watermarked music files, is stolen? Obviously I’ll have copies of these files but what happens when the thief puts my files on P2P networks?

It will sure look like I’m the criminal to the copyright owners. What with me supposedly ‘sharing’ the files associated with me and my watermark. Will they give me the benefit of the doubt? Not likely, judging from recent events.

Serial numbered items are different because the can’t be copied like this.

comboman says:

watermarks != DRM

I have to agree with Jack. Unlike DRM, watermarking is a passive, non-invasive technology that allows for fair-use like private copying, format shifting and use on multiple devices owned by the consumer. Theoretically, you could even resell the item as long as the copyright holder allows the watermark to be re-registered to someone else (like the DMV does with the serial number of a used car).

Sanguine Dream says:

Not a bad start...

I’m with comment #2. Watermarking seems to have as many negative side effects as DRM mainly that a watermark doesn’t affect the usefulness of the song file as badly like DRM that can reder a song file almost useless.

But like comment #5 asks what about stolen players. A few years ago it was big news that people were getting mugged, assaulted, and killed on buses and subways for iPods. Imagine the incentive if you can not only get away with a free player but can also share the music and possibly shift the blame onto the original owner. Such an idea may not work in the long run but the legal confusion would be a massive headache.

Also, is there a way for us the consumer to see these watermarks so that we can avoid them? The industry will not get much support for a watermark system in which the RIAA can add them to a track but keep them hidden so that only they can detect them. I only ask because I don’t fully understand watermarking.

Overcast says:

Interesting concept; however.

Go run out and copyright ‘possible’ methods of content control. And then refuse to release the patients.

Hmm, odd – but it seems if that were to be done, copyright law could, in fact be the largest obstacle in DRM’s way.

Assuming someone was to do that… 🙂

Then if any of these media companies develops a DRM solution similiar, sue them 😉

Ron Larson (profile) says:

Watermarks can be removed

I like the idea of watermarks because it gives the owners the freedom to use the media the way they want to.

However, watermarks will not prevent piracy. Media can be scrubbed of watermarks by simply comparing two copies of the same media. The difference might be a watermark.

If fact, a good pirate doesn’t even need to get his hands on copies of the other versions of a media program. All that is needed is a P2P application the uses binary-chop methods to isolate the area where the watermark resides. The P2P app only needs to compare hashes of the chopped segments. So within a few minutes he can isolate the watermark, then decide how to remove it.

To remove it, he can use media editing tools. If it is deeply embedded, a format conversion might scub it out.

Michael Long says:

Never understood...

“It’s nicer than DRM in that it doesn’t restrict people directly, but it still treats everyone like criminals first.”

I never understood the rationale behind that statement. How many people routinely leave their cars and houses and businesses unlocked and unattended? How many banks lack alarms and cameras and security guards? Why do stores have anti-theft devices? How many parents tell their kids never to talk to strangers? Why is it when you hire an employee or babysitter you get references?

In short, EVERYONE assumes that there’s criminals out there, and because of that they take the steps needed to protect the things they care about.

Are most people criminals? No. Far from it. But since criminals don’t walk around with name tags you can’t easily tell them from the honest folk. Especially when they’re strangers. So we take precautions that, ultimately, have an impact on everyone.

As such, complaining about something that everyone does to one extent or another strikes me as the height of hypocrisy.

|333173|3|_||3 says:

What if...

IF you could eport that your files had been stolen, the system could blacklist your watermarked version and issue you with new versions. It might chew up your bandwidth allocation for a few months, but it would be a start.

TO remove the watermar: simply convert to a format which odes not support the tag if it is stored as a tag, or convert to a wave, add randomly +/- 1to each sample, and convert back. THis would be almost inaudible, but would scramble the wartermark, or greatly reduce the available number of watermarks. using a larger range would increase the protection, but reduce sound quality.

Nigel says:

It doesn't need to be perfect!

You miss the whole point.

The buyer only needs to understand that when that MP3 they just bought suddenly appears on P2P that they may trace right back to them.


These technologies were tried in 2000, the difference then was that some dumbass decided that it should be used for DRM. But then the pirate knows if the watermark has been removed or not, because the DRM restricts him or not. So it gave the pirates a test to determine if they’d removed the watermark.

This new patent (serving up adverts by detecting the watermark in the p2p television file and pulling the correct advert so the rights holder still gets his advertising fee) has advantages, it isn’t DRM so there isn’t a strong incentive to remove it because it doesn’t restrict what you can do with it. But it does give the pirate a test as to whether the watermark has been successfully removed or not, so it weakens the watermarking system.

Watermarks can be removed, correct, given enough copies of the marked item (for the dumbest systems 2 copies are enough, for more complicated systems many more copies are needed for comparison).
Now you’re a pirate and you need 10 copies of a track to know that you’ve successfully removed the mark. You have to convince 10 people to give you their copy at their risk so you can pirate it. Can you convince them? Why not you just go buy the CD?

“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.”

To your next point, ‘it degrades the quality’, you can’t tell the difference, it’s been blind tested already.

As for the third aspect, ‘promotional aspect’, it doesn’t restrict squat. That’s the point, the tracks run on anything, you can do what you like with them, all gray area uses too, everything.

“but it still treats everyone like criminals first.”
Do you have a number plate on your car?
Does the can of beans you just bought have a serial number? Flip the computer keyboard over, see the serial number? Who’s treating you like a criminal?

Watermarking is my preferred solution. The copyright holders want a solution, but the buyers don’t want to be dictated to, and this fits both.

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