Hendrik van Huyssteen (MScEng-I).

Digital Watermarking as Copy Protection in Media Distribution Networks

As the digital media industry is growing daily and getting even bigger, so is the issue over copyright protection.  It is a major concern to content providers across the spectrum.  Many content owners are unwilling to make their content available to new Internet-based content distribution systems in fear of large scale piracy.

There is indeed a reason for concern from the content owners.  Approaches like the traditional DRM-based copyright protection and conditional access systems that have been made, they alone cannot robustly protect content in a media distribution system.  All media content needs to be eventually decrypted and presented to the user in an analogue form and that is where the challenge lies.  This protection becomes ineffective as soon as the content is decrypted and made available for display to the user, no matter how strong the copy protection is in the digital domain or on the playback device itself.

Digital watermarking that entails investigating solutions for identifying pirates through a technology is what the main focus of my research is.  Otherwise explained, this is a method of robustly embedding copyright information into media, which remains intact even after digital to analogue conversion.  The embedding information that is imperceptibly into the media content itself, rather than relying on a file header to convey information it can be achieved.  Imperceptible to humans the watermark can only be detected with special software.

File headers that can easily be stripped by media transformations cannot come near the quality of the copy protection when compared to the watermark’s extreme difficulty to remove without severely degrading the media content itself.  Watermarks can prove ownership, identify a misappropriating person, trace media files’ dissemination through the network or simply inform users about the rights-holder or the permitted use of data if it is implemented correctly.  Combined with existing copyright measures it can provide a “last line of defence” against piracy.

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My contact details: hendrikvh@ml.sun.ac.za