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Digital Watermarked MP3 as an alternative to DRM

December 19, 2006

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Slowly, the industry is experimenting with MP3-based downloads, a step that foregoes security but greatly increases consumer flexibility.

That has drawn opinions and input from a number of sectors, including the Digital Watermarking Alliance. The group recently noted that watermarking technology can enhance MP3-based sales by layering content tracking and extra features.

“The music industry has had a long and successful track record using digital watermarking for forensic tracking of pre-release and promotional content,” said Reed Stager, head of the alliance. “It’s an opportune time to apply this proven technology to consumer-facing applications as a means to identify and better manage the distribution of digital music files.”

The use of pre-release watermarking has indeed been an effective means for identifying the source of a pre-release leak, though one expert questions whether the technology makes sense in the larger consumer arena. “The terrain is just so broad that it becomes difficult to track an individual needle in the haystack,” the source said. Regardless, the identifying technology can also be used to access enhanced content and features, while also offering more data on user behavior.

That steers clear of DRM, a sticking point among many consumers, and less intrusive technologies will probably face less resistance.

Other services, including those supplied by AMG and Gracenote, offer track identification and subsequent buying opportunities. Looking ahead, labels may become more amenable to layering enhanced content into open, MP3 files if early sales experiments show strong results.

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