Microsoft licenses audio watermarking

20 Aug 2007

As more and more organisations are unlocking their Digital Rights Management (DRM), they are still tracking how their music is being used and distributed through digital watermarking.

Following on from Universal’s decision to embed watermarks in its audio MP3s, Microsoft announced on Wednesday that its research lab in Redmond, US, would be licensing its watermarking technology to Activated Content, a digital technology company based in Seattle.

While not affecting the sound quality of files in which the watermarking technology is embedded, it acts as an identification tag and tracks how the owner uses the file and monitors its use on peer to peer file sharing systems, including determining if the owner is using the file for more than personal use.

Unlike DRM, audio watermarking isn’t just extra data tacked on to the file, it is part of the file itself but inaudible to the human ear, instead “heard” by monitoring applications.

While Universal has said that its watermarking will not track individual files that would possibly lead back to the purchaser, but rather specific songs in order to see what tracks are illegally shared most frequently.

Universal is using this technology in a trial period to determine if it is in fact losing out on selling DRM-free music, and whether this will reduce illegal file sharing.

Activated Content has not yet said how it will be using the watermarking technology, but believes it is superior to DRM in terms of preventing audio piracy.

By Marie Boran