The Hollywood Reporter-
First, the major label groups attempted to thwart online music
piracy by going after such file-swapping companies as Napster and
Scour. Now, they've turned their attention to what they believe is
one source for leaking their products journalists.
Group's Universal Records and Warner Music Group's Reprise Records
are experimenting with digital watermarking technology to track
pre-release albums sent months before their commercial street dates
to thousands of music journalists and radio stations for review purposes.
watermarking, codes embedded in album tracks correlate to a number
the label has assigned a CD. If the recipient of that CD converts the
tracks into MP3 files and posts them on the Web, the watermark allows
label watchdogs to ascertain the origin of the illegal file.
Universal and Reprise have begun to stamp journalists' names on
selected pre-releases. A code embedded in Universal CDs corresponds
to the recipient's name. This method was used recently for the
pre-release of the label's Godsmack album "Awake," which
was sent to journalists with their name stamped on the CD and a blunt
letter of explanation.
we have been forced to take this action due to the fact that some of
our advance promotional product is at times being used in an
unauthorized manner, such as being encoded into MP3 format and made
available for downloads via the Internet," the letter says. The
letter, on UMG letterhead, warns that if the recipient uses the album
in an "unauthorized manner," the label will use the
watermark "to match the misappropriated sound records to the
record they were originally embodied on, identify the recipient of
that particular record and take the appropriate action."
is the lead time on these has to be long, especially for monthlies,
and we were finding the first source of online trading of the albums
coming off of these review copies," said Larry Kenswil,
president of UMG's eLabs technology division. "So we started
looking at what can we do to help people realize this is not a good
thing. ... Watermarking presented itself as one way."
Now in a trial
period, UMG has watermarked albums from such high-profile groups as
Godsmack, 3 Doors Down, Boyz II Men and 98¼.
Advance copies of
Reprise's Green Day CD "Warning" had journalists' names
stamped on them, but Reprise's watermarking is in an earlier trial
phase than the UMG initiative and cannot trace MP3 files to a
specific journalist. The watermark number correlates only to the
label department promotions, corporate, radio or A&R
to which the advance copy was issued, a WMG spokesman said.
letter says the label group will take "appropriate action,"
Kenswil said no penalties have been set. In fact, the Godsmack album
was available for download on Napster well before its commercial
(album) shows up on Napster, it's easy to detect the number, and we
just might give a call to the person and say, 'Your copy got on
Napster. How did that happen?'" Kenswil said. "It's not
necessarily that the person is doing it themselves, but if they
review it, they might give it to a friend or sell it to a used-CD store."
been known to make as much as $10,000 a year in cash by selling
product labeled clearly as promotional to retail outlets, said one
music writer who requested anonymity. Record stores that accept the
CDs illegally are turning a healthy profit.
As for the other
majors, BMG Entertainment and Sony Music said they are exploring
watermarking as an anti-piracy option. EMI said it has no
watermarking plans for pre-releases.
It is likely that
the type of watermarking used by Universal and Reprise will become
systematic when applied to all music products per specifications of
the Secure Digital Music Initiative. Under SDMI, all CDs will be
watermarked and playable only in music players programmed to verify
who receive review copies of music or books or software should be
using that material for journalistic purposes," said Robert
Steele, director of ethics at the Poynter Institute. "They
should not be using it in a fashion for profit-making, nor should
they be in some way passing it on to other individuals for their
understand the concern over journalists who are selling material
legitimately, but the reality is these companies are doing their best
to use journalism to promote their own commercial products
that's part of the equation. ... The record companies are not without
a stake in the promotional process."
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