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Startup Tries Watermarking Instead of DRM 344

Posted by Zonk
from the commendable-actions-mean-profits dept.
Loosehead Prop writes "A U.K. startup called Streamburst has a novel idea: selling downloadable video with watermarks instead of DRM. The system works by adding a 5-second intro to each download that shows the name of the person who bought the movie along with something like a watermark: 'it's not technically a watermark in the usual sense of that term, but the encoding process does strip out a unique series of bits from the file. The missing information is a minuscule portion of the overall file that does not affect video quality, according to Bjarnason, but does allow the company to discover who purchased a particular file.' The goal is to 'make people accountable for their actions without artificially restricting those actions.'"
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Startup Tries Watermarking Instead of DRM

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  • by flanksteak (69032) * on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:45PM (#17685608) Homepage
    Sounds reasonable. But then how does the copyright holder distinguish between the purchaser engaging in illegal distribution vs being the victim of theft? The article never covers that. I think I can guess how the **AA will react to any watermarked file floating around the net with Joe User's name/account reference embedded in it. They'll call a SWAT team and have Joe's house raided. No proof. Sorry, Joe, for the mess. We're on to harassing the next person we vaguely suspect of illegal distribution.
    • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:48PM (#17685674) Journal
      Heck, the pirate can randomly filter out a few more bits and thus fingering some other patsy instead of him/herself?
      • Ohhhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sterno (16320) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:04PM (#17685986) Homepage
        You thought this was something intended to defeat deliberate large scale pirates? Why would you think that? I mean none of the DRM crap stops them either, so why should this? :)

        • Re:Ohhhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ebyrob (165903) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:26PM (#17686392) Homepage
          Well basically. It sounds like this isn't intended to help figure out where illegal/unofficial distributions come from. Rather to prove legitimate rights to a particular bit of content.

          Basically if the RIAA says "we found copies of Titanic and Spiceworld in your online data store on June 15", you can come back and show them your official copy bought on May 12 so they'll leave you alone. Assuming forgeries are difficult, this might allow technologies like managed online media storage to get off the ground without the legalities dragging it down. Basically this gives you a portfolio of "legally registered" works that another entity can help you manage without imposing additional restrictions on what you can do with the content.

          DRM kind of does this, but it locks up the portfolio and leaves someone besides the end-user with the keys. Under a scheme like this, you're less fencing in your property, and more just making an outline that says where the property boundaries are...
          • Re:Ohhhhh... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Omestes (471991) <omestes@gmail.CURIEcom minus physicist> on Friday January 19, 2007 @05:01PM (#17687130) Homepage Journal
            Quick correction, MPAA, not the RIAA. It is easy to confuse your media giant defenders of.. er... themselves, I know.

            I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with this, though. I do like it better than nasty DRM, but it seems... Underdone, and perhaps still a step in the wrong direction. I think the various **AAs should learn that the problem isn't piracy, but that piracy is the symptom of a larger underlying problem, that their business model is outdated and self-defeating (may I add draconian?), and their prices are unfair.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Kelbear (870538)
              I'm on board with everything you've just said Omestes, but unfair prices?

              I don't think I can agree with the prices. The only 2 prices I can think of that would be unfair would be anti-competitively low pricing used to undercut small start-up competitors until they go out of business so that they can jack them up again. Or, monopoly pricing a necessity out of people's reach.

              But since this is a luxury good, it should be fine for them to price however they like. At higher prices, they'll get less sales, and lo
              • Re:Ohhhhh... (Score:4, Insightful)

                by paulatz (744216) on Friday January 19, 2007 @07:11PM (#17689162) Homepage
                But since this is a luxury good,

                I won't say that music and movies are luxuries. I agree that HDTV and 5.2 surround are luxuries, stupid ones to be fair. But visual and audio arts are a primary need for people. Humans play music and drama when they don't have enough food to eat, they built instruments and wore play dresses before writing was developed. You can't honestly say that simple entertainment is a luxury and, since we don't have a lifestyle that allow us to gather every evening around the fire to sing and play, listening to music and watching a movie is a real need for us, not as important as eating and having sex but not much less either.
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Reziac (43301) *
                  Evidence that entertainment (that is, a chance for the brain to uncompress) is not so much a luxury as a basic human need:

                  In times of economic distress (most notably during the Great Depression) the entertainment industry, in whatever form it takes at the time, always does better than at any other time.

                  It may well be that the worse the economy, the more people have a strong need for a clearly-defined escape mechanism, and entertainment fills that need.

                  And in terms of how much discretionary budget you have t
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by teh_chrizzle (963897)
              that their business model is outdated and self-defeating (may I add draconian?), and their prices are unfair.

              you forgot ugly, lazy, and disrespectful.

        • Re:Ohhhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:38PM (#17686614) Homepage

          I actually think this is just about right in terms of copy protection. You're right, really professional pirates won't be stopped, but they never will be. However, it discourages individuals from posting their purchased copy online.

          So long as you don't have any moral issues with piracy, anyone can buy a CD, rip it, and put it online. It's easy, doesn't require any expertise, and loads of people do it. That's part of the reason why there's an absolute flood of music online. However, if you knew that every copy online could be traced back to the first guy who purchased it, far fewer people would do it.

          So, if you accept that hard-core professional pirates just can't be stopped, and your goal is to discourage casual piracy without preventing people from doing valid things, watermarking is a good solution.

          • Like door locks... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by sterno (16320) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:44PM (#17686776) Homepage
            The truth is anybody can break into your house at anytime. They don't because there's some risk, however slight, that somebody will notice and they'll get caught. Same logic here. It's not going to prevent somebody from pirating but it will discourage the lesser crimes.
          • Re:Ohhhhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by yali (209015) on Friday January 19, 2007 @05:41PM (#17687858)

            This will make an interesting comparison to iTunes... iTunes sells music online with DRM that can, in principle, be defeated [wikipedia.org] (or 1 person could buy an un-DRMed CD and upload it to the rest of the world). But by putting just enough hassle in front of the typical consumer, combined with pricing that is generally perceived as reasonable, iTunes has managed to be quite successful. Consumers could engage in piracy, but most choose not to.

            What's interesting about identity watermarking is that instead of using a digital control like iTunes, they're using a more social one -- making people feel accountable. (As was pointed out, it's unclear yet whether people will actually be held accountable.) If that is effective, critics of the **AAs could make a more effective argument that DRM, which restricts legitimate fair use, is not necessary.

        • Re:Ohhhhh... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by OglinTatas (710589) on Friday January 19, 2007 @05:01PM (#17687132)
          Indeed. This is a good thing because it is not there to prevent deliberate piracy, it is there to treat paying customers decently. That seems to have fallen out of favor, so I say bravo to them.
      • by WindBourne (631190) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:13PM (#17686178) Journal
        First you have to know where to filter. As it is, the company should be able to spread the information across a number of frames and still not have it be seen. Interestingly, they can even do it up right so that the various transcoders will still show important info. Overall this is a pretty good idea.

        As to the theft vs. giving it away, well, there are some easy answers to this. Once a person is a "person of interest", then allow them to keep going, but track them closely. Most ppl will be found to give away the film. It is when it hits the net and is spread wildly, that the issues come in. I would guess that fewer than 1% of all film/music owners are at the core of thefts.

        This is overall a win/win.
        • That's easy: (Score:3, Interesting)

          First you have to know where to filter.

          That's easy: Obtain two or more copies and compare them. The watermarks MUST be different, so the bits that are different tell you where they are.

          Assuming the watermarks are statistically similar to a fixed number of random bit-flips, two copies identify half of them, three identify 3/4ths, four identify 7/8ths, etc.

          Of course with a few samples you might be able to crack the system. If the watermark is a set of redundant copies of something you can identify, from th
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ArcherB (796902) *
        Heck, the pirate can randomly filter out a few more bits and thus fingering some other patsy instead of him/herself?

        SHHHHH! Don't give it away, patsy!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by McFadden (809368)
        Or just remove the bits altogether.

        I considered (as I'm sure many did) this exact same digital watermarking idea a couple of years ago for movies, images and audio files. Thought it might make a decent idea for a startup. However, within a few hours of researching the topic, it became pretty clear that it wouldn't work without additional DRM. The watermark is destroyed the moment you re-encode the file into a different format format. The DRM was required to prevent the re-encoding, and let's face it,
    • by Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:49PM (#17685698) Homepage Journal
      OTOH, it will make the user more protective of their data in the first place- and with this watermarking scheme, it is THEIR data.

      Another business model from this could be "You TV"- upload your own bug, buy content- and it's stamped with YOUR bug and available on a website password protected as you choose for you and your friends. Eventually, the bug becomes a video file in and of itself and a route for advertising- and suddenly we'll have advertiser-supported IPTV.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) *

      But then how does the copyright holder distinguish between the purchaser engaging in illegal distribution vs being the victim of theft?

      They have to prove it "beyond a shadow of a doubt" in a court of law. It's not a perfect system, I'll grant you, but it's better than the alternative.

      FWIW, this is a non-issue anyway. Files purchased online are almost certainly not the ones floating around P2P sites. Those are usually either from audio engineers who leak them, or rips of source media like CDs. So in the long

      • by Gorm the DBA (581373) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:09PM (#17686078) Journal
        First off...it's beyond a *reasonable doubt*, not a shadow of a doubt.

        More importantly, that only applies to criminal prosecutions, not civil ones. In Civil lawsuits, you only have to prove you're 51% likely to be right. Admittedly, the amount of your judgement is lower if you're only barely correct (usually...), but still, it's not all that hard of a standard.

        In addition, good lawyers cost $150 or more per hour. Defending yourself against an RIAA action will take any lawyer at least 10 hours of time, almost certainly more if it goes to trial. And no, you don't get reimbursed if you get found to be the winner (except in certain very difficult to prove situations, which almost certainly would rarely apply here).

      • by soft_guy (534437)

        But then how does the copyright holder distinguish between the purchaser engaging in illegal distribution vs being the victim of theft?

        They have to prove it "beyond a shadow of a doubt" in a court of law. It's not a perfect system, I'll grant you, but it's better than the alternative.

        FWIW, this is a non-issue anyway. Files purchased online are almost certainly not the ones floating around P2P sites. Those are usually either from audio engineers who leak them, or rips of source media like CDs. So in the long-run, such watermarking would only be good for consumers as it would prove that they're more honest than the RIAA gives them credit for.

        Or the a*holes will accuse everyone and their grandma (literally) of removing the watermark. One of those two.

        No, they don't have to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt - or even a reasonable doubt (as in a criminal case). The standard for civil cases (like the RIAA cases) is much lower. They would still be able to use their current tactics.

      • by rhombic (140326) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:11PM (#17686120)
        They have to prove it "beyond a shadow of a doubt" in a court of law.


        Nope, not at all, at least in the US. The **AA's are filing civil suits, where the standard is "preponderance of evidence", i.e. the jury thinks probably, yeah, the defendant did wrong the plaintiff. BTW, in the US at least it's "beyond a reasonable doubt", and that standard only applies to criminal cases.

      • by PylonHead (61401)
        They have to prove it "beyond a shadow of a doubt" in a court of law.

        Even in criminal court the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt". In civil court, the standard of proof is "Clear and convincing evidence".

        Standards of Proof [wikipedia.org]
    • by pclminion (145572)

      Sounds reasonable. But then how does the copyright holder distinguish between the purchaser engaging in illegal distribution vs being the victim of theft?

      Since you're comparing this to theft, let's compare with what happens when it turns out some physical property you bought was actually stolen. You don't get to keep it -- you're not a "victim." You have to give it back. Translating back to this case, they'd probably ask/require you to delete your copies.

      Of course, comparing copyright violation to the

      • by soft_guy (534437) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:15PM (#17686194)

        Sounds reasonable. But then how does the copyright holder distinguish between the purchaser engaging in illegal distribution vs being the victim of theft?

        Since you're comparing this to theft, let's compare with what happens when it turns out some physical property you bought was actually stolen. You don't get to keep it -- you're not a "victim." You have to give it back. Translating back to this case, they'd probably ask/require you to delete your copies.

        Of course, comparing copyright violation to theft isn't legally valid, so the analogy doesn't help much.

        You have it backwards. In this case, you'd be in trouble for having your property stolen (i.e. being the true victim), not from receiving stolen property which is what you are talking about. With watermarking there is no difference between purposely uploading your music to Kazaa and having it stolen by a hacker who uploads it to Kazaa.

        Basically the media companies would be asking people to treat their files as if they were national secrets which is too burdensome. They are NOT being marketed as state secrets - they are being marketed as a replacement for music CDs. If you leave music CDs on the seat of your car and a thief breaks your window and steals them, you are a victim. Under this scheme if the thief breaks your car window and steals your iPod (and shares your music files), you are a criminal. Big difference.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jorenko (238937)
        I don't think that's what he meant. Imagine you buy a movie off of this service. One day, the MPAA is browsing Kazaa and finds a copy of the movie with your watermark on it. But, you never put it there. How do they know that the file wasn't stolen from you, then shared by the thief?
        • Easy... they take the extra step and investigate. These companies aren't concerned about one file leaking... what they're looking for is browsing Kazaa, and finding that over a 3-month period, 80% of the movies released were purchased by a single person. Then they have reasonable proof to get a warrant and have the police investigate that person. If it turns out the person's computer is part of a bot net, they continue on to figure out who is controlling THAT. Otherwise, they try to prove the person has been deliberately broadcasting their IP.

          But this is all beside the point. The watermarking in and of itself will be enough of a deterrent for most people, which is what they're really after. The watermarking will also help the authorities to more comprehensively understand exactly what goes on with filesharing (how many original copies are being shared? How far is the reach? What is the lifecycle of a file? etc.).

          I, for one, think it's a great idea. Nobody's actions are being restricted; just a bit more information is being made freely available, as it wants to be. We just have to make sure to combat the "it has his name on it so he must have distributed it" reflex.

    • by thepotoo (829391)
      How is this an issue? It's like saying that someone shouldn't be held responsible when they left their wireless network unsecured, and a pirate comes and takes their files.
      Keep your network protected, and it won't happen.

      The big drawbacks I see here are: 1) Joe Denisovich, downloads movie and distributes it in Russia, immune to legal action from the US (counterable by not distributing to Russians
      2) People can still copy to their friends computers. (not really what the MPAA is worried about, IMHO)

      Honestly,

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tygt (792974)
      So much for selling old movies at a yard sale.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      But then how does the copyright holder distinguish between the purchaser engaging in illegal distribution vs being the victim of theft?

      They can't.

      But if you happen to be the victim of "theft" a lot of times, then they could reasonably start asking questions.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:46PM (#17685612) Journal
    Then hex diff it, find the missing bits add them, and then.... profit!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:54PM (#17685786)
      Real pirates probably already have the originals anyway.

      Besides, this appears aimed more to stop casual file swapping by scaring the non-tech-savvy than it is at real pirates.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by chris_eineke (634570)
      Buy three copies? Pirates pay their contacts at the recording presses once for the raw media.

      Also, if you have n bits missing from each file and you want to reconstruct the original, you will need at most n-1 records since at most n-1 bits that are missing could overlap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cpeikert (9457)
      There are ways of encoding the watermarks that are resistant to such "collusive attacks." They allow the distributor to decode at least one of the original versions, even from a "noisy" version that resulted from a diff like you described. The techniques go by many names: collusion-secure fingerprints, fingerprinting codes, traceability codes... the concept is the same, though.

      Whether these codes are actually implemented, I have no idea.
  • re-encode the movie (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:47PM (#17685644)
    Solution: re-encode the movie, I prefer 2 pass xvid

    Could the missing bits affect the movie and be detectable?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:26PM (#17686390)
      Have you tried removing an industrial strength watermark (e.g. DigiMarc)? I tested various watermarks in a course project (Steganography) and it's not so trivial. A large number of watermarks were resistant to encoding, cropping, affine transformations, rotations, etc.

      The only way I could successfully remove the watermark without making the image unusable was by diff'ing the original with the watermarked. But where are you going to get the original?
    • no cigar (Score:2, Informative)

      by wickedsteve (729684)
      from TFA-
      "Because of its design, the watermark even survives most editing changes and format shifts"
    • by nblender (741424) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:31PM (#17686470)
      The bits they change are subtle and don't affect the overall plot of the movie. So, for example, everyone who downloads a copy of the movie gets Lindsey Lohan replaced with another actor (say, Danny Devito) in every scene in which she appears. This change, while sublime, is preserved through re-encoding.

      Quite clever, really.

    • A good watermarking solution is resistant to many kinds of processing, including re-encoding.

      Thats the whole challenge.

      Off course the watermark might not be resistant to extremely destructive transformation such as downscaling from HD to QCIF, but then who cares about pirated QCIF video ? But certainly a very accurate transcoding would not affect the watermark.

      Current watermarking technologies are very much dependant on proprietary algorithm.

  • Compression? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by P(0)(!P(k)+P(k+1)) (1012109) <math.induction@gmail.com> on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:47PM (#17685652) Homepage Journal

    From TFA:

    The missing information is a minuscule portion of the overall file that does not affect video quality, according to Bjarnason, but does allow the company to discover who purchased a particular file.

    I'll assume the people working on Streamburst are clever; but I wonder how susceptible the ghost-stream is to translation and recompression: whether it's possible to corrupt the signature-stream while retaining watchable quality.

    • I'll assume the people working on Streamburst are clever; but I wonder how susceptible the ghost-stream is to translation and recompression: whether it's possible to corrupt the signature-stream while retaining watchable quality.

      If they do it right, it won't be. A human being can't see the difference between RGB color #FFFFFF white and #FEFEFE white, but a compressor won't change that color number and neither will a translator.
      • by pclminion (145572)

        If they do it right, it won't be. A human being can't see the difference between RGB color #FFFFFF white and #FEFEFE white, but a compressor won't change that color number and neither will a translator.

        Why wouldn't it? Video compression is lossy. If it saves bits by representing white by almost-white in a certain block of a certain frame, the codec is free to do it (for exactly the reason you cite -- humans can't tell the difference).

        • A set of quick formulas will probably do calculations to show what will be changed and what will not. Based on that, it should be possible to make is so that some information is saved across the frames based on various codecs. In fact, I would be willing to bet that they will make it possible to work when converting to say divx on one film and then on another film, if you change to mpeg2, so on, and so on.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Code Master (164951)
        But any modern codec does just that: tosses that information because can't tell. Modern video codecs don't try to accurately represent the color, etc.. they represent the edges, the motion, and some color. Speech vocoders such as for VoIP determine the parameters of your speech and encode those for resynthesis. they don't try to accurately determine sample by sample what things are. I feel that any change in codec would completely destroy any 'minor detail' fingerprinting. If they did content fingerprintin
  • If the objective is to determine the purchaser of a file by means of the bits encoded in the file, would it not be possible to identify which bits and bit patterns are being removed and simply remove or replace them all? Or perhaps re-encode the file to a different format to totally change things?
  • I like (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joe 155 (937621) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:48PM (#17685680) Journal
    I do like this idea, we all say that we can be sensible and will pay for things so long as its in a form that is acceptable so we can use it (ie. without DRM). This would also give you your full fair use rights and would be able to fall into the public domain when the ownership had expired (another great benifit)...

    In fact the only thing that I worry about is how much info they will keep on me to verify at a later point that it was me (or that it wasn't me) who put the file on Kazaa or torrent or whatever... will it be credit card info, linked to your address? will it just be a name and e-mail... and how secure are their systems it?
  • by sokoban (142301) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:48PM (#17685682) Homepage
    So, people who pay for a movie from these guys won't be able to share it via Kazaa or bittorrent or whatever is popular right now. I don't think that many people who pay to download a movie really do so with the intent of putting it on a filesharing network. I mean, why the hell would you do that? The people I know who do the whole illegal filesharing thing, don't pay for media they can get for free, and the people I know who buy digital download media, don't use illegal filesharing sites. Buying something legally kinda defeats the purpose of using a filesharing site, amirite?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Babillon (928171)
      Not at all. It has to get there somewhere, right? If your comment held true, all we'd have would be crappy leaks of screeners for our movie downloadings. Nope, some people buy the stuff and feel they have the right to share it with their friends, so they do so. Then their friends share it to their friends, and so on and so forth. That's how file sharing works. Just because you never see the beginning of the chain doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

      Heck, I purchase things now and then, and once in a while I'l
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Andy Dodd (701)
      "and the people I know who buy digital download media, don't use illegal filesharing sites"

      I don't know about you, but I know plenty of people who go to such filesharing sites because they are unable to obtain the media in a usable format if they pay for it. If they can't view the "legal" media for whatever reason (unsupported mobile device, Linux user, etc), then the legal media becomes worth $0.00 to them, and they go the illegal route.

      Now, if the legal media were usable to them, then it would actually h
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:49PM (#17685690)
    it's not technically a watermark in the usual sense of that term, but the encoding process does strip out a unique series of bits from the file. The missing information is a minuscule portion of the overall file
    The warez guys will do what every torrent user does, build the file they want from more sources. They will strip all conflicting bits from the file and substitute the missing ones. Yeah, this does make it so that they need two or more sources, but it's certainly doable.
  • Excellent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mustafap (452510) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:49PM (#17685696) Homepage
    This sounds perfect. As they say, it makes *me* responsible for the file; I can make millions of copies as backup. Of course I wont give it away, to do so is at my own risk.

    The authentication will be a problem of course; it means I will not be able to make an anonymous purchase on the web - something that people are quite reasonably concerned about being able to do. What will it be signed with? My DNA? What about identity theft?

    A heck, I give up. I was wrong. It's another stupid idea.

  • Studios have been doing something like this for years, with screeners that they send out to Academy members (they even busted one member who was distributing them over the net). There is no need to limited these watermarks to just the first 5 seconds, as it doesn't effect video quality. They can put them anywhere in the video.

    -Eric

  • This seems like a reasonable idea. It would certainly allow you any amount of fair use... but like any attempt at controlling access to something (presumably you still wouldn't be able to distribute it to a few thousand close friends via the internet...) it is probably doomed to failure.

    Something similar to this was featured in a couple Tom Clancy books, the "Canary Trap" where a few key words were changed in versions of a document, without changing the meaning. Find an exact quote and you know who gave i
    • by jfengel (409917)
      A video just has so much room for steganography. You could encode each I-frame using slightly different parameters, and choose your P and B frames differently, yielding very, very different results. A simple bitwise compare won't do you any good.

      Even there, I suppose that eventually with enough work you could undo that by decoding and re-encoding each frame to your own specifications. You'll lose some resolution, and it would take a lot of computing power, but I don't think that'll deter people: they're wil
  • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:55PM (#17685802) Homepage
    In principle, I like this idea. I don't really see a problem with it.

    However, they already do something similar in theaters. Every so often in theatrical movies you will notice a weird pattern of "cigarette burns" that appears for a brief moment. (Yes, to my eyes at least, they are visible and sort of distracting.) The pattern is different for each copy of the film shipped. The idea is that, if someone sneaks into a movie theater and makes a cam of a first-run movie, the producers of the movie can analyze the video and figure out which theater it came from. That helps them put more pressure on theater owners to enforce bans on video cameras, etc.

    But does it seem like there are fewer cam bootlegs out there since they started doing this? They started it maybe five years ago.
    • by KokorHekkus (986906) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:09PM (#17686074)
      n principle, I like this idea. I don't really see a problem with it.
      If someone else gets access to that movie and spreads it, should you be held liable? You have X and someone manages to lay their hands on it and makes copies. If X is a DVD movie you wouldn't be liable (unless you helped the person in some way. But if X is a downloaded movie and the watermarking is to be any useful you must be liable... otherwise you can just say "uuuuh, somebody stole it from my computer... I didn't do nothing... you have to show I did it".
    • I noticed the number of cam rips started to decrease proportionally to the time to DVD ;)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jZnat (793348) *
      The dots are cues for the projector guy to queue up the next reel. Movie reels can only contain like ~10 minutes of video, so movies take up a bunch of reels.
  • Adding an intro to the video will already alter the data in the rest of the file, especially if two-pass encoding is used and assigns slightly different bitrates to parts of the movie. Just keep a checksum of each 1MB block on file and you are good to go.
  • Not To Bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by endianx (1006895) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:02PM (#17685942)
    I suspect this would be fairly easy to circumvent, but I love the idea!

    I have always thought that piracy should be solved through law enforcement, not technology. Much like traffic law enforcement.

    DRM is the equivalent to putting a 70 mph speed cap on all cars. This watermarking is sort of like requiring cars to have a license plate.

    If they can find a way to make this work I'd be overjoyed.
  • See also this (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:06PM (#17686022)
    http://www.broadcastpapers.com/whitepapers/Content %20Technology-05-2006-046-048.pdf [broadcastpapers.com]

    The Thompson system for watermarking video and there's also a Fraunhofer Institute system:

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,124676-page,1/ar ticle.html [pcworld.com]

    These are all good ideas IMHO. As long as

    1. The watermark isn't easy to remove
    2. There is uncertainty as to whether the mark is removed
    3. It isn't used to apply DRM

    1 is obvious, 2 is there because the pirate has to be uncertain if their copy still has the idea, and 3. because the advantages of the system over DRM are lost if they use it for DRM!

    Imagine you can freely buy and use the media you use however you like, but if it shows up on p2p, the ID can be pulled and traced back to you.

    Since the DRM doesn't work, (not a single piece of media has successfully been locked up by DRM yet, a 100% failure rate). And since the DRM is already so restrictive that it puts off genuine sales, and is causing competition problems as inter operation is non existent. Then watermarking scheme will take over.

    This one, I'm not so keen on, since the watermark is too easy to remove compared to the more mathematical approaches. The key point of any watermark approach is the mark must be difficult to remove and there must be uncertainty that the mark has been successfully removed.

    My 2 cents.
  • by 93,000 (150453) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:07PM (#17686042)
    I see a future with millions of movie files on the P2P networks that are watermarked "Blockbuster Video".
  • by davecb (6526) * <davec-b@rogers.com> on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:09PM (#17686090) Homepage Journal
    You can do almost anything, including while (1) { fork(); } but it's logged, so the sysadmin can ask you not to do that ever again (;-))
  • As far as I know, this is the strategy employed by TiVoToGo, which lets you take video off of a TiVo and watch it on your laptop. Here's one article [zdnet.com] discussing it. Personally, I'd take a watermark over restriction any day.
  • I like this idea. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by paladinwannabe2 (889776) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:22PM (#17686322)
    I realize there are several problems with it in practice- and that pirates taking the effort to do so can break this. However, this leaves us with a copyright protection scheme that: A. Isn't a hassle (it doesn't restrict the customer) B. Is at least as effective at discouraging piracy as anything else they've thought of. This means that it is the best Protection racket^H Scheme people have come up with yet. There is the danger of the MPAA sueing some innocent people, but I doubt they'll sue anymore innocents than they already do.
  • Simple work around (Score:4, Interesting)

    by king-manic (409855) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:22PM (#17686324)
    1-Buy 2 or more files from them
    2-do a bit comparison
    3-modify a copy to reflect a random profile of all removed info

    this would make any compairson hard.
  • I applaud the idea of giving people the freedom to do what they please with the media they have purchased. This idea has a great motivation. I wish it could work, however, as much as I like the idea, someone will do the following:
    Purchase two copies under different names.
    Compare the two bit-for bit. Anywhere the bits are different, set the bit to a random value.
    Watermark destroyed. Video intact.

  • I had a similar idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kasperd (592156) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:36PM (#17686582) Homepage Journal
    At some point I did a scetch of a somewhat similar idea in some net forum. Though I would not remove bits, rather I'd do an encoding with slightly increased quality in a few random places. (That way I would hope to prevent people bitching about reduced quality). And how much the watermarking costs in terms of extra space could be computed exactly. I haven't done any calculations on the extra space, but I would expect a few KB for a full movie.

    To explain what my idea was I'll first give a short reminder of how jpeg works. Blocks of image data are transformed using something based on fourier transformations. The resulting coefficients are then rounded to different scales. For high frequency components a scale with larger steps can be used as errors in these components are not easilly noticed. There is a table of standard steps to be used for each combination of horisontal and vertical frequency. (I left out the part about how to handle colour components, which is not relevant for the following idea).

    Making a minor change to one of the step sizes is not going to cause a major difference in the size of the compression or the quality. By picking some of the entries at random and reducing the step size you are going to increase the quality of random parts of the picture. Now what I want to do is to make a redundant encoding of a signature on the text from the watermark and use those bits to choose places to increase the quality. The signed text itself is included in the begining of the file.

    First of all removing the signature would means you couldn't compute the step sizes, and thus you couldn't correctly decode the file. And if the file was reencoded, you might still be able to extract the watermark by comparing with the original uncompressed movie. You would just have to find enough of the places where quality was increased. (And enough is a lot less than all of them).

    The signature used in the encoding should be performed using the buyer's private key. In addition to this, I would sign the entire encoded movie using the seller's private key to be able to detect if a file is corrupted (as a service for the users). The part about the user signing something could be replaced with just using a hash of the text, but that might weaken the proof of origin of a particular movie a bit.

    Now all of this could be combined with features to prevent users from accidentially losing a copy to a cracker/pirate. Since this is not intended to prevent users from intentionally copying the file, it could be a lot better and less intrusive than DRM.
  • by maughanahan (1053586) on Friday January 19, 2007 @05:12PM (#17687338)
    It's a nice idea, but the content providers will never go for it. They want to use DRM to limit fair use so they can sell you the same content in different formats. They can make themselves sound very self-righteous banging on about preventing piracy, but they are at least as interested (if not much more so) in preventing our fair use.
  • Where... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Friday January 19, 2007 @05:56PM (#17688102)
    Are my legal rights when it comes to First Sale doctrine? Once I own a copy, I can do with that ONE copy whatever I want (except copy it).

    The watermarking system disallows my LEGAL right of selling that object to somebody else.

    Now, what would be interesting would be an online database of all the media conglomerates coming together to create a Ownership Library, in which one can buy a copy right, so that downloading it would be legal. Simply verifying if requested downloader has a copy provided to them could potentially make users on p2p legal.

    For example, I'd like to download a new album. I'd go to the ownership library, buy a copy "right", then download from any source I wish (legit provider, or piratebay..). To keep these shares legit, it would potentially request that I have a copy right to access that file share, and after checking that I can own it, allows download. It could keep the users AND sharers from turning into copyright violators.
  • by gsn (989808) on Friday January 19, 2007 @07:52PM (#17689552)
    I'm not sure all the "Oh noes this is taking away my resale rights" have a point.

    As distribution becomes entirely free of physical media it was going to be hard to resell your copies anyway. What did you want to do - have people that popped over to your garage sale stick a usb drive in your computer and mv the copy over??? On the one hand we want physical media to die so that we can time shift and format shift to our hearts content, and on the other hand we want to maintain resale rights. I'd say be reasonable.

    Resale rights have been dying for a while. A lot of new computer games come with cd keys that get linked to online accounts ala steam. You could try to resell them, but the guy at the other end would be buying a limited copy. Try reselling your itunes downloads recently? http://news.com.com/2100-1027_3-5072842.html [com.com]. Old record stores were my favourite way of getting old music because you couldn't waltz into Tower records and buy it. Then emusic came along and I switched.

    Availability of older material won't be so much of an issue if you have distribution thats free of physical media. That itself reduced the value of your resale rights in a way. Digital distribution with watermarking will very effectively kill the resale market. This will probably lead to nasty pricing issues with older material. But the point is they were bound to die ever since I could make a copy of a CD and sell the original at a garage sale. Or borrow a dvd from blockbuster and burn a couple of thousand copies with dvd decrypter and resell them in paper envelopes. In the process though I get dirt simple format, place and time shifting.

    Now digital watermarking is a much more consumer friendly approach than DRM. You get a copy, do what you like with it except distribute it and if that means you effectively can't resell it then c'est la vie. Nothing by the way prevents you from reselling it - just the risk of getting hauled to court. Sort of what you'd expect in a world where you can keep a copy and make an infinite number of resales anyway.

    DRM controls you much more. You cannot format shift easily (and frequently not without loss). Worse how you could use your content were more strongly controlled. I can imagine a world where if you wanted your iTunes to play on your iPod and your mac you'd need a different a different version for both. Or one where you couldn't buy a copy and only lease one on a pay for play. If any company gets a monopoly on online content distribution this will likely happen.

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