Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Watermarks – A DRM free environment?

Watermarks have started to become the new buzzword. The name comes from the faintly visible watermarks imprinted on stationery that identify the manufacturer of the stationery. The purpose of digital watermarks is to provide copyright protection for intellectual property that's in digital format.

A pattern of bits is inserted into a digital image, audio or video file that identifies the file's copyright information (author, rights, etc.) and are designed to be completely invisible, or in the case of audio clips, inaudible. Moreover, the actual watermark cannot be identified and manipulated and can withstand normal changes to the file.

In the music world Universal Music Group has announced that it is to embed watermarks in its forthcoming trial of the sale of music tracks without digital rights management. A unique identifier will be allocated to each individual track and this will enable them to measure what proportion of the DRM-free files appears on P2P networks. Microsoft has also licensed its audio watermarking technology which will enable the insertion and extraction of non-secure information, such as advertisements or songs, within audio files. The interest in watermark technology happens when WalMart are starting to sell music downloads without digital rights management protection. Wal-Mart will sell DRM-free tracks from record companies EMI and Universal for $0.94 per track, or $9.22 per album and offer tracks with DRM protection in WMA format for $0.88 per track.

Will we now see a migration from the stringent, closed and restrictive DRM model to a more open and ‘honesty box’ watermark one?