Digital Watermark Is Copyright Dog Whistle

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Granting of this patent couldn’t have come at a better time in the Internet Revolution for Digimarc Corp., the sales force of which is most likely irritatingly knocking on YouTube’s doors. The patent is for a "digital watermark" that can be embedded into copyrighted files that humans can’t see or hear.

Copyright infringement has been the litigation bane of YouTube, especially since deep-pocketed Google got hold of it last fall. Enter Viacom, and most recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who were just sick, like we were, of everybody talking about what junkie-thin starlets were wearing on the red carpet, at least on the Web where they can’t control it.

Props to the Today show Monday morning, by the way, where coverage of archeologists (possibly) discovering the bones of Jesus Christ was trumped by a well-groomed, not entirely masculine older fellow wanting to talk about Versace’s latest backless number. Good call.

Anyway, Digimarc has this patent for:

An automated monitoring service [that] downloads image files (including, e.g., graphic and video files) and audio files from various Internet sites, and checks these files for the presence of embedded digital watermark data. When found, such data is decoded and used to identify the proprietor of each watermarked file. The proprietors are alerted to the results of the monitoring operation, often apprising such proprietors of unknown distribution of their image/video/audio properties.

Digimarc says the digital watermark directly addresses the challenges facing content owners and site operators striving to keep control of their own material as it appears on user-generated content sites like YouTube and MySpace.

The watermark is, or so the patent describes, a digital encoding that slightly but imperceptibly (as far as humans go) alters the picture and/or sound of file. So, in effect, it’s the digital equivalent of a dog whistle.

"Digital watermarking — and, in particular, the innovations described in this newly issued patent — can be an important element of building long-term viable business models from the disruptive changes in entertainment distribution and consumption that have evolved, as embodied most strikingly in social networking sites," said Bruce Davis, chairman and CEO, Digimarc, wordily.

"Much of the repurposed content on YouTube, for example, contains copyrighted entertainment. If social networking sites implemented software to check each stream, they could identify copyrighted subject matter, create a report, negotiate compensation for the value chain and sell targeted advertising for related goods and services. There is no need to impede consumers. In fact, the specific identification of the content could guide provision of related goods, services and community designed to maximize the consumer’s enjoyment of the entertainment experience."

The company says the technology is very similar what professional photographers and stock photo agencies have been using for a decade.

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