New Australian-Made Watermarking Tech Could Kill Music Piracy

When a screening copy of a movie leaks out, it's pretty easy to track who it was stolen from or uploaded by. These early-release screeners usually have secret codes, abbreviations and even named watermarks on them that tells the studio who broke cover when a movie finds its way onto The Pirate Bay. Watermarking audio files without affecting the quality of an audio file is a little tougher, but Australian scientists reckon they've cracked it.

Boffins from Deakin University's School of Information Technology in tandem with Aizu University in Japan have managed to invent watermarking technology that can be used by law enforcement to trace the trail of music downloads back to who originally leaked it in the first place.

The new tech works by concealing watermarked data like the publisher's name, signature, logo, ID and track number inside the track itself without affecting audio quality. That watermark can then be decoded using a proprietary key developed by researchers to trace leaks for a piracy conviction.

The new watermarking tech also has the potential to be used as a verification technique to guarantee the authenticity of files.

Researchers say that the verification potential is solid, given that the watermarking technique is resilient to attacks such as "pitch-scaling, time-scaling, and jitter attacks, along with other conventional attacks such as re-quantisation, noise, amplitude, compression, re-sampling and filtering".

Lead Researcher, Associate Professor Yong Xiang, believes that 95 per cent of Australia's music downloads can be traced back to piracy, adding that there are 2.8 million Aussies getting away with it today.

"This causes enormous amounts of lost sales revenue and royalties to producers, musicians and other performers," Associate Professor Xiang said, adding that this new watermarking technique could actually be used to score piracy convictions from those dealing in illegal music.

"What we did was to enable music file owners and relevant law enforcement authorities to use a secret key to extract the watermark data from the watermarked multimedia object.

"Watermarking technology can be used to prove copyright ownership, trace the source of illegal distribution and verify the authenticity of files," he said.

The researchers are now looking for a corporate sponsor to commercialise the research. Given the potential, it's likely to be snapped up quickly.

Have Aussie scientists given piracy cops their greatest weapon yet? [Deakin]

Pirate music image via Shutterstock

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