An Audio Waterworld

The quest to secretly track music fans continues: Royal Philips Electronics and Digimarc announced last week that they have signed a new agreement that extends the licensing of Digimarc's digital watermarking patents to include audio applications as well as a broader range of video applications.

The companies say the new non-exclusive agreement now covers video and audio applications in professional, governmental, and consumer markets, "thus expanding the scope of applications and market opportunities of both companies' activities in digital watermarking."

Digimarc first signed a digital watermarking licensing agreement with Philips in April 2001 to support deployment of Philips' WaterCast digital video watermarking system. This agreement was extended in September 2001 to license additional applications to Philips and expand development and co-marketing activities. Also in 2001, Digimarc entered into litigation with watermarking rival Verance. The latest agreement with Philips extends watermarking applications to the audio domain.

Philips' Ronald Maandonks says, "It is increasingly important to be able to accurately identify content through the use of digital watermarking. The expansion of the licensing agreement with Digimarc confirms our respective leading positions in digital watermarking technology." Maandonks emphasizes that Philips was the first company to offer digital watermarking applications in both video and audio, and the company hopes to continue expanding those markets.

Digimarc's Reed Stager adds, "Extending our cooperation with Philips reflects the recent increase in commercial interest and use of digital watermarking, and Philips is continuing to develop and drive innovative new audio and video products and services into the market."

Others are not so sure of watermarking's benefits. Digital rights advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), point out that watermarking may be an invasion of consumer privacy and "usually prevents the public from exercising most types of fair use—and [watermarks] do not expire when a work is due to pass into the public domain."