All major newspapers and of course all tech news reported this week about the death of DRM. Free DRM music downloads are now offered by all major record labels. Even Amazon starts to sell drm free mp3 music from Sony BMG at the end of January. Going full throttle in the market for music downloads Amazon therefore is moving up to the second biggest player in the game.
Nevertheless that most consumers may be released from the burden of DRM from now on, there are some actions from the music industry underway to keep track of such distributed files. There is an interesting wired article from David Kravets about the watermarking efforts of the music industry. The major reason is to prevent copying of the files in peer-to-peer networks and to track these unauthorized copies. With this iniative the industry tries to put more pressure on the policy makers and ISP's to allow and to filter the content. Tracking of watermarked files could become a standard filter for ISP's and therefore enables tracking of illegal copies.
In fact it seems like a good alternative to DRM in order to control illegal copies, as it doesn't restrict the consumer in the way he wants to use the purchased digital copy- still allowing the industry to possibly track illegal usage. On the other hand I am curious how the industry will tell what an illegal copy is? The watermark can be used to count the number of used copies of a file, but there is no way to tell who is using it. I might be using a copy on my laptop at work and on my desktop at home and maybe I want to use it on the desktop at my parents place as well. So how it is possible to tell what copy is illegal?
Apart from filtering the peer-to-peer networks I can't imagine any effective way to prevent or at least monitor illegal copies. Which brings us to the point how long it will take until software tools are available to rip off the watermark from the files?
Nickolas Carr writes about this topic as well. He also emphasises the fact that if this model becomes successful it could be added to every digital file that ultimately enables the tracking of illegal copies and a very precious monitoring of file copies.