SDMI Chooses Aris Technologies' MusiCode

After months of wrangling, the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) has selected Aris Technologies' MusiCode as its recommended form of digital audio copy protection, according to an inside source at SDMI. The decision came at the end of weeks of testing various watermarking techniques on the music industry's "golden ears"—recording and mastering engineers, music producers, and professional audiophiles. The official announcement is expected later this week.

Aris describes its technique as "a simple and accurate way to identify, monitor, and in some cases, control the use of musical recordings." Distinct from scrambling techniques, or the copy-prevention "flags" added to many CDs, Aris' copyright watermarks "can survive multiple analog tape generations as well as radio broadcast without altering the fidelity of the recording." This seemingly impossible paradox was demonstrated in an exhaustive series of SDMI-administered ABX tests over the past several weeks at test sites in Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville. David Moulton, producer of the recording-engineer training series Golden Ears, says, "After extensive tests, we were unable to detect any coloration or artifacts in the encoded music."

Audiophiles are alarmed that high-resolution recordings such as DVD-Audio and the Super Audio CD could be compromised by watermarks, despite engineers' reassurances that the watermarks are undetectable by most listeners in normal circumstances. SDMI officials have repeatedly stated that any watermarking technology it recommends will be "entirely voluntary," and that music publishers will be free to use it—or not use it—as they deem appropriate.

The fact that the watermarks can survive multiple generations of analog copying, and can be detected by trained listeners, means that organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America will have strong tools for tracking down professional pirates. Compact Discs are not the only format exploited by intellectual property thieves—the market for illegally duplicated cassette tapes is even larger. There are well over a billion cassette players in use throughout the world.