Experts have developed new technology that tracks the details of every person who illegally downloads a file could wipe out video and music piracy, researchers say.
Researchers from Australia’s Deakin University and Japan’s Aizu University created the breakthrough watermarking technology which leaves a trail identifying every user who has illegally distributed a file.
Lead researcher on the project, Deakin University’s Yong Xiang, said unlike previous watermarks his do not compromise the quality of the original audio.
His new technology is also unable to be tampered with, unlike previous versions which allowed watermarks to be tampered with when people edited audio files.
The improved watermarks would enable music distributors to identify the source of leaked contents and pass them onto police, providing irrefutable evidence of content misuse in support of legal action.
‘What we did was to enable music file owners and relevant law enforcement authorities to use a secret key to extract the watermark data from the watermarked multimedia object,’ he said.
‘Watermarking technology can be used to prove copyright ownership, trace the source of illegal distribution and verify the authenticity of files.’
Globally, 95 per cent of music downloads are illegal.
In Australia, around 2.8 million people download music illegally via file sharing networks.
Wanlei Zhou, head of the School of IT at Deakin, said the technology could also be used to stop TV and movie piracy.
‘We only did this for audio, but anything you do for audio you can apply to video,’ Prof Zhou mentioned.
The watermark technology works by embedding details of the recipient of the audio file, such as their IP address and credit card and bank information.
Every time the file is passed on, the technology records the details of the downloader.
Prof Xiang said previous watermarking technology affected the quality of files but his new development did not.
He added that older watermarks were able to be ‘attacked’, both maliciously and unintentionally, which meant music distributors and police could not properly extract data.
Malicious attacks came from people who intentionally modified the watermark data.
Unintentional attacks, which happen when people copy songs, add special effects or convert files into MP3 and JPEG, also change watermark data.
The researchers compared their new technology with the five best watermarking programs on the market and found that theirs was the most effective after audio files had been altered.
Using their program they were able to detect 100 per cent of watermarks, while the other programs detected between 40 and 90 per cent.
Music Rights Australia general manager Vanessa Hutley said she welcomed advancements which sought to address the issue of online infringement.
But Ms Hutley added that there was ‘no silver bullet’ when it came to wiping out piracy and said she was unable to comment on the particular technology until she had seen how it worked.
‘The issue of online infringement is a complex one and requires multiple strategies,’ she said.
‘We have advocated for improved legislative processes which would allow rights holders to take effective, efficient and proportionate steps to stop those who exploit their creative content without rewarding them.’