SDMI Evaluating Hundreds of Submitted Hacks

With $60,000 in award money as incentive, the hacker community is helping the Secure Digital Music Initiative find out just how secure six proposed watermarking technologies really are. On October 12, as SDMI representatives were testing the audibility of three of the watermarks, the organization announced the closure of a month-long challenge it had offered hackers: break the code. According to the terms of the challenge, each defeated technology will mean $10,000 to a successful hacker.

Despite calls for a boycott of the challenge by some prominent hackers, 447 submissions were received and every one of them will be evaluated, according to a press release posted on the SDMI website. The submitted hacks will give the organization "extremely valuable information" in its continuing campaign to develop copyright security for digital music, according to SDMI executive director Leonardo Chiariglione.

A successful hack must defeat the watermark but leave the music intact, and must be replicable. "A submission that destroyed a test track while destroying a given proposed technology could not be considered successful," say SDMI guidelines. No results will be announced until all of the submitted hacks have been evaluated. An unverified news story, appearing on the Salon.com site the day the challenge closed, claimed that all of SDMI's watermarking technologies had been defeated.

Watermarking is part of a larger effort by the music industry to retain control of music distribution as the Internet traffic in shared music grows rapidly. A recent report from technology research firm Forrester Research predicts that piracy will cost the music industry more than $3 billion annually by 2005—almost 10% of last year's $38 billion in worldwide music sales.

In a related development, the Recording Industry Association of America has announced plans to develop a global standard for digital "identification tags" that can be attached to individual songs to track them. Similar to bar codes, the ID tags will contain data such as the names of the artists, songwriters, engineers, and producers involved in making the recording, and the name of the record label that owns the property rights. Such tags may not do much to prevent piracy, but will help automate accounting procedures for radio stations and other commercial ventures that must pay royalties, according to RIAA general counsel Cary Sherman.

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