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NEC safeguards digital copyrights

NEC's research arm is readying technology that will protect copyrights on digitized content by embedding identifying tags in images, sounds, or video clips that make it impossible to redistribute the content without leaving traces.

NEC's research arm is readying technology that will protect copyrights on digitized content by embedding identifying tags in images, sounds, or video clips that make it impossible to redistribute the content without leaving traces.

A team of three NEC researchers plus one MIT professor has termed the technology "digital watermarks." The digital watermarks work by embedding a mathematical code in any kind of digital content that identifies either its owner or the owner of a redistribution license. If someone copied the content without permission, the owner could prove ownership by locating the watermark.

Few protections currently exist for owners of digitized content, which is widely pirated and redistributed, particularly across the World Wide Web.

Although invisible to the naked eye, the watermark cannot be removed without damaging the image or sound because it is embedded in the most noticeable, or most "perceptually significant" part of the image or sound, said NEC researcher Talal Shamoon. "If you remove it, the key components that define the photo are damaged," said Shamoon.

He added that the watermarks are highly resistant to cropping or distortion and can even survive if the content is converted back and forth between digital and analog forms.

Although the project began as scientific experiment in Fourier analysis, any technology that will help prevent the widespread piracy of digital content is in heavy demand by the multimedia and Internet industries, said Shamoon.

A NEC spokeswoman said the company has not yet decided how to market or license the technology but to expect an announcement in the "near future."