Mastering engineer Denny Purcell let out a long sigh. "Does anyone in this room believe that any of this is going to do any good?" he asked. Of the eight or nine people—each with decades of experience in the music and/or audio industries—hanging out at Georgetown Masters Studios for SDMI's Phase II listening tests this past October, not one said "Yes." The consensus: the watermarking issue will probably be dead and forgotten within a year.
Can pirate chasers attend to business while accusing each other of piracy? Digimarc and Verance Corporation, two competitors in the digital watermarking race, have been swapping accusations over patent infringements.
For the 109th convention of the Audio Engineering Society, the main floor of the L.A. Convention Center was transformed into a bazaar of new tools for audio professionals—but the panel discussions upstairs were where the real action took place. On Friday, September 22—just an hour before researchers Dr. Stanley Lipshitz and John Vanderkooy of Ontario's University of Waterloo presented a paper offering a mathematical proof for the "imperfectability" of one-bit delta-sigma recording systems—Sony Corporation issued a clarification of the technical standards for its Direct Stream Digital technology, the basis of the Super Audio Compact Disc. DSD, it now appears, is a one-bit technique as it applies to consumer playback systems, but uses a multi-bit PCM quantizer [presumably within a delta-sigma converter negative-feedback loop; see an article on this subject in the forthcoming November issue of Stereophile—Ed.] at the recording and mastering ends of the business. (The Lipshitz/Vanderkooy paper is available as AES preprint #5188.)
In December, after months of conducting listening tests with audio professionals in the US, the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) choose a watermarking technology from Verance Corporation for DVD-Audio copyright protection. Test results had indicated that Verance's system was the least detectable of the contenders under consideration.
A long-running dispute between the music industry and small webcasters may have come to an amicable conclusion. Over the weekend of October 5-6, representatives from both sides agreed on a system of royalties to be paid to record labels and artists based on a percentage of webcaster revenue or expenses, rather than on a per song basis. Last summer, Librarian of Congress James Billington decreed that all webcasters should pay a royalty rate of 0.07¢ per song per 1000 listeners. Many small webcasters, including many college radio stations, chose to go offline rather than face fees they couldn't afford.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may spend the rest of its associated life in litigation—as either as the initiator or the recipient of actions intended to determine who can use its products, under which circumstances they can do so, and how much they should pay, assuming they are allowed to use them.
The US Copyright Office is being pulled in opposite directions over a recent decree establishing royalty rates for music played by webcasters. On one side are radio stations and Internet-only music sites, which claim that the rates are too high. On the other side is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which claims that the rates are too low. Both sides have filed separate appeals in US federal court.
Media conglomerate Viacom, parent company of Blockbuster Music, has reportedly put the ailing chain on the auction block. Most likely buyer is Torrance, California-based music retailer Wherehouse Entertainment, Inc., which has 220 stores of its own, primarily on the West Coast. On Wednesday, May 13, Reuters news service reported that Wherehouse had tendered an offer of $200 million for Blockbuster. Wherehouse has been in intermittent discussions for several months with Viacom.