Watermarks in music?

By Damien Cave

By Salon Staff
Published August 3, 2000 7:38PM (EDT)

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I enjoyed your interview with Talal Shamoon of SDMI for a look at the possibilities in watermarking music. There are two major concerns I have with this.

Watermarking has been attempted before with images, and it's been quite ineffective. Watermarks simply don't survive re-encoding and compression. They failed in images, and I see no technical reason why it could be different for music.

Secondly, wouldn't serializing our music tracks (which is basically what a watermark will do) be an invasion of our privacy as consumers? I don't like the idea that audio tracks I own having a serial number embedded in them that can be tracked back to the source. There may be incentives for consumers to embrace this, but it's just big business collecting personal data and usage habits as usual.

Watermarks? No thanks.

-- Tom O'Brien

So where are the customers benefiting in all of this? SDMI aims to make accessing music more difficult, while placing unreasonable constraints upon its use. It also proposes to increase the cost of music to consumers. While Shamoon touts the flexibility of SDMI, it seems quite clear that the RIAA is insistent upon minute control over how and when music may be heard. So the net result is more expensive music with fewer options for its use.

SDMI is completely unnecessary for a variety of reasons. While the RIAA complains loudly that they are losing money due to copying MP3 files, it completely fails to offer an alternative. (And if the industry members lose money when I copy an MP3 to my hard drive, do they get the money back when I delete it?) Where can I go to purchase an MP3 file from an RIAA member? The answer is that I cannot purchase it.

The RIAA claims that selling MP3s is not viable because they cannot control the use. But the control they seek goes far beyond the control they have over CDs. In other words, I have fewer "fair use" rights with music in its electronic digital form (SDMI MP3) than I do in its physical digital form (CD). Hershey does not care how I use a candy bar after I've paid for it. The RIAA should not care how I use a song after I've paid for it.

So I ask again, where are the customers benefiting in all of this? The answer is that SDMI offers zero benefit to consumers, while simultaneously restricting fair use and increasing costs. It doesn't take a Ph.D. to see that this is a rotten idea.

-- Peter Shay

Shamoon's giddiness about the eventual turn of all music to the Internet should be tempered by the knowledge (of which he is apparently bereft) that the MP3 format and any other compressed format provides a sound experience that is marginal. For full fidelity, we will still need more data bits than the largest available data pipes will be able to pump for years to come.

-- Eric Baldwin

Salon Staff

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