Watermarking is supposed to be the silver bullet for DRM-free online music distribution. Universal is using watermarking for the MP3s they started to sell through Walmart, Real Rhapsody and other online retailers. Other labels are considering similar approaches. The idea is to keep track of the files without locking them down, and scre your customers off of using P2P systems while you're at it.

Sounds convincing, if it wasn't for the fact that labels rarely tell you what they will do once watermarked files get leaked. Sue the original owner? Cut him off and stop selling music to him? Or just end the whole experiment altogether?

Music journalist Erik Davis recently learned that the answer probably will be "lose your mind and go berserk". Davis experienced first hand that watermarking oftentimes leads to everything but clear cases when he got mixed up in an online leak of a yet to be published album. From his personal website:

"Publicly admitting one's file sharing habits is kinda like talking about porn, and Iím as shy as the next guy, but one thing's for sure: I would never upload an advance. But Ben Goldberg didn't know this. (...)"

The article is an entertaining read - and something every label owner should think about before spending money on a technology with a whole bunch of unintended consequences.

(via Pho)
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