by CIO Staff

German Web Music Store Uses Watermarks, Not DRM

Sep 15, 20063 mins

A German company is offering MP3 files for download, unencumbered by digital rights management (DRM). Instead, Akuma discourages copying by adding a unique “watermark” to each download.

Major record labels have mostly chosen DRM to protect their copyrights, limiting the number of copies buyers can make of a downloaded track, and restricting the music players they can use to listen to it.

However, Akuma is taking a softer approach. The music store sells MP3 files that can be played on almost any digital music player, but adds a unique tag to each download using watermark technology from Germany’s renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, which helped create the MP3 audio compression algorithm.

The watermark technology makes slight changes to the data in sound files, such as a higher volume intensity in a tiny part of a song, that are undetectable by even the best trained ears, according to Fraunhofer researchers. However, if unauthorized copies of a download turn up on, for example, peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file-sharing networks, the watermark allows Akuma to identify the purchaser of a file and take action against them.

“Around 40 percent of the labels we offer are embedded with watermarks,” said Sascha Hottes, a managing director of H2 Media Factory, which launched Akuma. “This is the compromise we’ve reached with labels that are willing to release their titles in the MP3 format and not in Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio format with its DRM technology.”

As part of its service, Akuma monitors songs embedded with a watermark against illegal distribution on P-to-P services, according to Hottes. “We monitor P-to-P networks on a random basis,” he said.

About 350,000 songs, mostly from independent labels, are available on the Akuma portal, with 700,000 planned by the end of the year. The roster includes artists such as Katie Melua, Toni Braxton, Simply Red and Deep Purple.

A single song title costs 0.89 euros, (US$1.13) and an album goes for 4.49 euros. Customers have various payment options: online, direct debit, telephone invoice and PayPal.

Akuma offers MP3 files in a quality similar to CDs, with bit rates (a measure of sound quality) from 192Kbps at the low end to 320Kbps at the high end.

Like, the German music download store hopes to break into a crowded market by making song downloading a piece of cake. The German portal requires no special download software and places no restrictions on the choice of music player, including the iPod from Apple Computer.

Customers can make as many copies of the songs as they like, burn them to CDs and transfer them onto multiple portable music players.

The portal is now available in a beta version to registered users.

-John Blau, IDG News Service (Dusseldorf Bureau)

Related Links:

  • MySpace to Sell DRM-Free Music Downloads

  • U.S. Urges Euro Regulators to Lay Off Apple DRM

  • Choice Over IP (CSO)

Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.