The recent outcry against the restrictive nature of DRM protection has finally made the large media groups sing a different tune; however, the tune might not be as soothing as you think. The media giants are now exploring a much more invasive method of copyright protection in digital watermarking.
Digital watermarking allows the media groups to attach individualizing codes to each piece of media sold; then, those items could be tracked from user to user if it was passed around via file-sharing and peer-to-peer networks. If you thought DRM was annoying, say hello to the digital media groups tracking every move of the products you purchase.
That is at least the potential of digital watermarking; the two large groups currently using watermarking on their DRM-free material are Sony and Universal, and both deny that individuals are being tracked, as the watermark is “anonymous,” according to Wired. Don’t be fooled; just because it is anonymous at this early stage doesn’t mean that it won’t turn very user-specific and intrusive in the near future.
If it was anonymous, what would the media groups stand to profit by adopting watermarking over DRM? Let me assure you, the media giants are looking to stomp out file-sharing, and the potential of digital watermarking is two-fold:
First, the “ping-pong” effect of being able to track each user that touches a shared file would mean that those media groups could prosecute file sharers much more effectively. Don’t even think that isn’t in the forefront of the minds of executives trying to protect artists’ rights.
Second, by having a traceable and documented path of every file that gets shared on the internet, the media groups could have a case file to bring to ISPs in favor of blocking peer to peer traffic; the government, who is quick to eat up whatever the media groups tell them should happen, would have even more reason to mandate that ISPs block peer to peer traffic. Such a move would be hugely detrimental to the advancement of the internet, but that won’t stop those interested in getting every penny they can.
Rightfully, privacy groups are already feeling the proverbial hairs on the back of their collective necks raise as copyright protection moves from an infringement of consumer rights to a blatant invasion of privacy. You’d better believe that, if this sort of thing goes into effect, your personal information will be directly linked to whatever material you purchase, and if that purchased material goes anywhere, those media groups will be hot on your tail. Someone tell George Orwell’s family they deserve a few extra bucks for his predictions.