The big boys of the music business seem to have all decided that DRM (Digital Rights Management) is dead. DRM for those of you not familiar with the term is the technique that had been used to prevent digital music from being copied, even for personal use. DRM was destined for failure before it even arrived, effectively the music giants were trying to limit the vehicles that you could play your legally purchased digital music on. The final nail in the coffin came from the Song/BMG debacle about using rootkits (more often used in virus creation) as a means of implementing the technology.

But don’t get too excited yet, the abandonment of DRM does not mean that the music industry has given up on the, at least in their eyes, the huge music piracy problem. Although they are being somewhat coy on the subject, it appears that Digital Watermarking is the new ‘in thing’. Essentially this technology embeds a digital fingerprint inside the music. It does not prevent the copying of the file, but it does show the files origin. The music industry could use this technique to identify the original purchaser if a file ends up on a P2P network. The music industry is denying that they are planning on using individual watermarks, but based on their previous track record I am not sure that I would believe them. As the saying goes, if their lips are flapping they are probably lying!

Wired has an interesting take on watermarking, even at its most generic, it could prove to be a powerful weapon. With the right kind of government backing, and these guys have bags of cash for lobbyists, pressure could be exerted on Internet Providers, or more likely the backbone infrastructure companies to employ a filtering system preventing the transmission of watermarked material.

Once again, I see a problem with this solution. I run a diverse number of computer platforms, Apple, a couple of flavors of Linux, and different releases of Windows. I use email, and FTP as a means of moving information around, a watermarking filter could prevent me from moving my legally purchased music from Windows to Linux.

The RIAA (Recording Industry of America Association) must be salivating over the prospect of installing a firewall that makes The Great Firewall Of China look like a joke!

Simon Barrett

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