> Double Dis: New Wallflowers Album Is Napsterized a Month Before Release
> By Jon O'Hara
> Sunday, September 10 09:16 p.m.
> In the wake of the great MP3.com smackdown and on the eve of
> arguing its own injunction appeal, file-sharing paragon Napster
> is giving the Universal Music Group a case of Sixth Avenue
> The Universal-owned Interscope label is currently experiencing
> the frustrating and increasingly common cyber-phenomenon of
> watching a hotly anticipated new album from one of its
> multiplatinum acts turn up on Napster in its entirety weeks ahead
> of its scheduled release date. In this case, the album is the
> Wallflowers's Breach, the much-anticipated follow-up to 1996's
> Bringing Down the Horse, which has sold 4.1 million copies for
> Interscope to date. Breach isn't due to hit store shelves until
> Oct. 10, but as of this week -- a full month in advance -- some
> 25 million Napster users have free access to every track on the
> album in unprotected MP3 form.
Hmm... I'd like to grab a copy of this, but I'd hate to do it in
a way that will allow The Man to track me down later. I wonder
how much privacy I have when I use gnapster. (or if it's possible
to use it in a way that I have more privacy than I have now.)
> Just who is responsible for posting the 10 Breach tracks on
> Napster -- most likely ripped from an advance promotional CD or a
> stealthy recording studio dub -- remains a mystery, but among the
> users currently ''sharing'' the illicit MP3s are daisydollar,
> jrbigdog, eloco65 and the ever-popular yekkykorn311. Whether
> Interscope or UMG has served notice with Napster (per its
> DMCA-inspired copyright policy) to ban these or other users is
> not known, but as the files continue to be propagated and shared
> by more and more people that process would become highly tedious,
> if not, for all practical purposes, impossible. (Napster has said
> previously in the case of Metallica that it cannot remove
> individual files from its index database.) A spokesperson for
> Napster noted once again for good measure that Napster does not
> control what files its users choose to share.
> While some level of promotional-copy bootlegging has always
> existed -- and been accepted, in much the same way that the RIAA
> acknowledges that piracy in general will always exist to some
> degree -- the advent of Napster and its ilk has turned a nuisance
> into a potentially sales-stunting evil. (In addition to the
> Wallflowers, recent high-profile online leaks have included
> Madonna's Music and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP.) The sheer
> number of users of file-sharing networks and the ease with which
> tracks can be duplicated poses an increasingly serious threat to
> those trying to sell them, and when records begin to show up a
> month ahead of their release dates, entire marketing campaigns
> can be thrown off track.
Too bad for them. If they gave me a way to go to a web site
somewhere to buy the rights to listen to an album in any medium
for the rest of my life, I'd be happy to pay $3 USD or so and
then help myself to some MP3s. (and the artist would be getting
much more of my money than they do now: around three times as
much, from what I've heard.)
> ''It's a problem and it isn't a problem; it depends on the
> band,'' says former Capitol Records senior vice president/GM Lou
> Mann, currently president of HOB Media Properties. ''For the
> Wallflowers or any major superstar band, the problems are major,
> in fact they're Herculean, because people already want it and you
> don't want to dilute your audience. On the other hand, if it's a
> new band, having the music out early -- like the old 'controlled
> leak' at radio -- actually helps because it can create a buzz.
> Now it's up to [Interscope] to turn this to their advantage.
> Napster users represent only a small percentage of record buyers
> -- they're the first movers, early adapters and they could
> actually help create awareness for the record.''
> One label source familiar with the Wallflowers situation
> explained: ''There is a real concern within the industry about
> prerelease stuff getting out there. There are all kinds of people
> dependent on release dates, both inside and out -- retailers, for
> example, would be very disappointed if they were getting ready to
> hype a new release and found out it had already been on the
> street for weeks. That's a good way to damage a business
> UNIVERSAL MUSIC, FOR ITS PART, HAS BEEN ADDRESSING this issue by
> encoding advance CDs with a personalized digital signal, or
> ''watermark,'' which can identify the recipient of the disc and
> stays with the music no matter how many times it is copied,
> regardless of format. (A similar watermarking technology provided
> by Aris Technologies has been selected by the Secure Digital
> Music Initiative (SDMI) for its Phase I portable device
> standard.) According to New York Times writer Jon Pareles, who
> posted his experience with Universal watermarking on the Pho
> music/technology mailing list, advance CDs prepared in this way,
> in addition to bearing the recipient's name on the disc, pack a
> threatening notice stating that any misappropriation will be
> traced back to the misappropriator so that ''appropriate action''
> can be taken.
I wonder how these watermarks work. Isn't the encoding process
flexible enough that you can introduce enough randomness that the
watermark isn't traceable any more?
In any case, how long until their watermark algorithms are
discovered and MP3 rippers are modified to hide watermarks?
> A source close to Universal confirmed that the conglomerate is
> using the watermarking scheme as a way to find out ''where the
> leaks are,'' adding, ''They're watermarking individual pieces of
> promotional product and they'll be able to tell, if it's on the
> Net, where it came from. They're not fucking around.'' It is not
> clear if such a watermark was used in the case of the
> Wallflowers' Breach, but another source close to the situation
> indicated, ''This is a technology that we're experimenting with.
> The Wallflowers record could very well have had a watermark.'' An
> Interscope spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.
> However effective a deterrent such a watermark and accompanying
> warning might be, the technology itself (surprise!) is not
> unbeatable. According to Robert Mendes DaCosta, vice president of
> marketing for digital rights management concern SecureMedia, an
> audio watermark is actually a very high-pitched sound,
> undetectable by human ears but easily decoded by machines. As
> such, it could potentially be filtered out by an industrious
> perp. ''There are various ways to circumvent these things,''
> DaCosta says. ''With image files, you can compress them to the
> point that the watermark disappears. With audio, you could put
> some kind of filtering device in the stream. You might lose some
> sound quality, but for certain users, that's OK.''
oh... answered my questions above.
> Although the innate hackability of so much in cyberspace has led
> some to digital despondence, it turns out that a secret can be
> kept after all. One shining example is Capitol's Radiohead, whose
> new rock-event-of-the-year album Kid A is due for release on Oct.
> 3. Thus far, the album's tracks have been spared the fate of the
> Wallflowers' Breach (although live versions of the new material
> are available on Napster -- something the band reportedly doesn't
> object to), and both the band and the label intend to keep it
> that way for the next several weeks.
> Using a combination of low- and high-tech copy protection, which
> has taken the form of a) not sending out advance CDs, but
> allowing writers and others who must hear the album to come to
> the office and listen (as often as they want) and b) giving those
> who absolutely must have them copies on secure Sony Memory Stick
> flash-memory cards, Capitol has successfully avoided Kid A's
> premature digital dissemination. ''Essentially, we're carrying
> out the edict of the Radiohead collective to have people listen
> here, but not take the album away,'' says Steve Martin,
> proprietor of public relations outfit Nasty Little Man.
> With regard to the use of the file-trading-unfriendly Memory
> Sticks, Martin sees it as a small but certain technological leap
> forward: ''With OK Computer,'' he notes, ''they gave out copies
> welded into a Walkman.''