July 29, 2005

Waiting for the blogger's rant

There was a pile of CDs on the giveaway table today, among which was a promo copy of the latest from New Order, "Waiting for the Sirens' Call." I haven't been especially impressed with what I've heard of it, although it's been trumpeted all over the place as a return to form, blah blah blah. It sounded like New-Order-by-the-numbers to me when I listened to the audio stream they had online for a while. But then I heard the single playing while Rose and I were shopping one day, and man, in the context of "I am in a store and even though I am perforce somewhat engaged in what I'm doing, there is something essentially boring about the whole thing and it would be great if a catchy song were playing", it is a great single. So we'll see if I feel more enthusiastic when I relisten to the CD.

But the main reason I'm blogging about it is because I notice that promo CDs are getting a lot tighter on the security. The label reads:

PLEASE NOTE: This CD has been individually watermarked. That means that there is a serial number, traceable to an individual (you), embedded in the music. The watermark is not changed or destroyed by extracting clips of the music, or by using any compression technology such as MP3. This security measure allows us to trace any individual leaks, in the unlikely event that they occur, and protect the rights of the artist. The sound quality of the audio playback is not affected. The CD should not be copied, left with any third party or heard by any other party. Thanks in advance for your understanding. Enjoy!

Well, I'm sure that kept the CD off the file sharing networks, aren't you? I just love the "you" at the end of "traceable to an individual (you)". In my mind's ear I hear that being said by Dana Carvey's Church Lady, with a quick point of the index finger at the end. The "Enjoy!" at the very end is also amusing, kind of like: "Don't put your elbows on the table or chew with your mouth open or use the wrong fork or speak before being spoken to or spit anything into your napkin or reach across the table or drip on the tablecloth; now enjoy your dinner!"

Furthermore, apparently Warner Brothers thinks that we never assign articles to outside reporters here. When they say it can't be left to any third party, there can be no misunderstanding about who the first party (or would it be the second party? Not sure) is, because the CD says right on it: "THIS CD BELONGS TO", followed by the name of our entertainment editor. The CD also has some other warnings on it, in case it should become separated from its case:

Use, reproduction, transmission and distribution of this CD and the music on it is subject to an agreement set forth on the original package in which this CD was provided. This CD and the music on it are not to be used, reproduced, transmitted or distributed except as provided in that agreement.

But just to make sure you know what the deal is, and in case you are unable or unwilling to look at the CD case, it recaps the whole set of rules all over again, albeit reworded slightly for some reason:

This CD has been individually watermarked with a unique identification number embedded in the music. This number is traceable directly to the authorized recipient (you), which allows us to identify the source of any unauthorized copies or other reproduction of the music contained on this CD. The watermark is not changed or destroyed by extracting clips of the music, or by using any compression technology such as MP3. The sound quality of the audio playback is not affected. This CD is intended to be listened to solely by the intended recipient (you) and no portion of its contents may be copied or reproduced in any manner, nor made available to any third party (whether by means of streaming, so-called "peer-to-peer" networks or otherwise). This CD should not be played in a computer.

So many questions. Is it just that it shouldn't be played in a computer, or is it impossible to play in a computer? Should I not play it in my computer because it will fuck my computer up in some secret way? We may never know, because I sure as hell ain't about to try to rip this bad boy. And, what, is there no Chicago Manual of Style over there at Warner Brothers? Not only am I seeing a distinct lack of serial commas, Chicago clearly says on page 293 (of the 15th edition), "A word or phrase preceded by so-called should not be enclosed in quotation marks. The expression itself indicates irony or doubt." (Of course, it's obvious editorializing to place "so-called" before the phrase "peer-to-peer networks" in the first place -- since they are, in fact, properly called that -- but that's WB's prerogative.)

Also, do you agree that the two parenthetical instances of "you" in this warning are not as punchy as the one in the previous one? Here they sound like they're actually clarifying something, whereas in the other one, it clearly read as a threat. And it also feels surprisingly lax here -- if you're reading it, you must be the intended recipient!

Awww, I'm the intended recipient! I feel thoroughly welcomed! Thank you, Warner Brothers, for deigning to allow magazines to publicize your recordings for you.

Posted by Francis at 05:12 PM

Technically I'd be interested in this "watermark". I assume it must be contained in the meta-data and therefore could be purged easily.
And you're right, bullying the "promoting" industry = publishing will not win favour for the studios. In any case, most stuff is leaked from within the studios, but it's always convenient to assign blame outside.

Posted by: steff at July 29, 2005 11:42 PM

Not knowing anything about the technology, I was going to guess that this (so-called, putative, ahem ahem) """watermarking""" close-quote, cough, consisted of some kind of systematic mucking about with the low-order bits of the samples. That is, you toss out some tiny amount of sound quality, and use the low-order bits to spell out (sort of like an acrostic) THIS CAME FROM LUNCHBOY'S REVIEW COPY over and over again.

I suspect that even lossy compression algorithms would preserve the low-order bits often enough that adding them up statistically would reconstruct the watermark.

If nobody has ever thought of this technique before, I hereby claim it and license it to the world under the standard terms of the Gnu Public License.

BUT, if this really is the technique being used, it could easily be defeated by scrambling the low-order bits at copy time.

I kinna love this particular arms race.

Posted by: ACW at August 1, 2005 03:56 PM

Hee! Please Hammer, don't ... throw your CMS 15 at them!

Posted by: Martin at August 2, 2005 12:51 AM

"peer-to-peer" (apostrophes SIC)

I think they're trying to say that some peers, like the ones providing new stuff, are better than other peers, like the sponges. If you were a real man, you'd upload that CD to every network in uploading range.

Posted by: Todd Derscheid at August 3, 2005 11:50 PM

Considering it's not my name on the CD and thus wouldn't be me getting busted by the watermark security dealie, it wouldn't really be a mark of bravery and manliness for me to upload it.

Posted by: Francis at August 4, 2005 01:10 AM

Upon re-reading the post, I get it. I was confused by the last two paragraphs, which seem to indicate that you're the intended recipient of the threat (you're not, you merely read the threat to the actual assignee: the entertainment editor).

Agreed, throwing the entertainment editor under the bus wouldn't be cool at all.

Posted by: Todd Derscheid at August 4, 2005 01:18 AM
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