German watermark technology gains traction

Watermarks used in new service aimed at curbing online music piracy

In case you didn't know, two separate institutes within the renowned German research group Fraunhofer Gesellschaft have developed two separate watermark technologies, with one quietly gaining traction in the European audio sector.

MusicTrace, a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, has delivered watermark technology to Optimal Media Production for a new service aimed at curbing online music piracy, MusicTrace Managing Director Christian Neubauer said Tuesday in an interview. The Fraunhofer Institute was the creator of the MPEG-1 Layer 3 algorithm, later shortened to MP3.

"Optimal Media plans a service that will allow music studios to use watermark technology to protect the music they typically provide on CDs to broadcasters, critics and others for review before commercial distribution," Neubauer said. "Music companies are very concerned about music landing on the Internet and being copied illegally. Our technology is designed to track pirated copies."

MusicTrace technology embeds a watermark in music stored on CDs. The technology makes slight changes to sound data; for instance, the change could be a higher volume intensity in a tiny part of a song.

The technology is already being used by the Austrian subsidiary of Sony, which operates the German-language, audio-book Web site claudio.de, according to Neubauer.

MusicTrace was issued a patent for its watermark technology in 1996, he said.

But another Fraunhofer group is following closely on the heals of MusicTrace. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Integrated Publication and Information Systems Institute, one of 58 institutes within the huge applied research group, have successfully tested a software system, based on their own digital watermarking technology, for tracking pirated audio files in p-to-p (peer-to-peer) file-sharing networks.

The institute's approach differs from others in that it doesn't monitor the individuals who illegally download music but rather scans for content that has been illegally uploaded.

The technology was demonstrated earlier this month at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany.

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