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Topic: UMG Watermarking in 2019 (Read 934 times) previous topic - next topic
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UMG Watermarking in 2019

For those who are unfamiliar with the background here, this post offers a strong summary as well as audio examples and ABX results. In short, Universal Music Group labels have had an audible watermarking technique applied to their catalogues since the early 2000s. It works as follows:

Quote
The watermark scheme modulates the total energy in two different bands, 1khz to 2.3 khz and 2.3 to 3.6 khz. The energy is concentrated in the most perceptually sensitive frequencies because that makes it more difficult to attack or remove without significant audible distortion.

The energy is increased or reduced in 0.04 second blocks. The result can be characterized as a fluttering, tremolo sound.

This has been a subject of HA discussions in the past, but there are several new-ish aspects to the story which are (as yet) unresolved:

1. There are rumours that UMG suspended the use of watermarking at some point in the past several years. Some have reported that streaming services need only 're-download' the UMG content to their distribution servers in order for us to access non-tainted versions of the UMG catalogue. I've not been able to find clear evidence of this, and certainly, watermarked copies still seem to be distributed on the likes of Spotify.

2. Other people have suggested that UMG have only dropped watermarking for new content uploaded to the streaming services. It is unclear whether this refers only to new recordings, or also new compilations and remasterings of existing material.

3. Many of you will recall that in 2012, European regulators forced UMG to divest of EMI Classics, Parlophone and several other imprints. This was around the time the watermarking problem first came to the fore. Several of those imprints are now owned by Warner Music Group: It is unclear whether Warner's current digital catalogue retains traces of watermarking introduced by UMG pre-2012.

I would be interested to hear if anyone has insight or insider knowledge regarding these points, or perhaps can offer additional comment on the problem.

Re: UMG Watermarking in 2019

Reply #1
The option to edit the post seems to have disappeared, so let me add a little more here:

3b. Some more background: EMI was purchased by Universal in about September 2012. Several EMI imprints (EMI Classics, Parlophone, etc.) were sold to Warner Music Group several months later in April 2013. This means there was a 6-month period in which those music libraries were owned by UMG, and I'm wondering whether in that time they were subjected to the company's watermarking treatment. If so, has it persisted in Warner's digital catalogue?

4. It's been suggested on another site that whilst UMG (may) have suspended watermarking for CD quality streaming/digital releases, the practice has been extended to some high resolution content. As recently as several months back, listeners uncovered watermarking on even hi-res digital downloads -- content which is sold for often considerable sums.

Re: UMG Watermarking in 2019

Reply #2
I did re-download the 24/96 file today already mentioned in the thread Oldfield watermarked at qobuz?
It still has the same audio MD5 as the file from 3 years back but the tag has changed.
I doubt what once entered into a resellers store will get replaced automatically with non watermarked content.
Is troll-adiposity coming from feederism?
With 24bit music you can listen to silence much louder!

Re: UMG Watermarking in 2019

Reply #3
For newcomers to this topic: This article from Wombat's thread suggests that Sony is also using a form of watermarking in its digital catalogues. I've not come across any obvious effects on sound quality there, so perhaps they have adopted a more subtle approach.

I'm not sure how feasible it is, but I would be glad to see a Foobar plugin developed which can detect (or generate a probability of the presence of) certain kinds of watermarking in tracks being played.

Re: UMG Watermarking in 2019

Reply #4
For newcomers to this topic: This article from Wombat's thread suggests that Sony is also using a form of watermarking in its digital catalogues. I've not come across any obvious effects on sound quality there, so perhaps they have adopted a more subtle approach.

I'm not sure how feasible it is, but I would be glad to see a Foobar plugin developed which can detect (or generate a probability of the presence of) certain kinds of watermarking in tracks being played.

Sony is the type to give you the subtle rootkit.  They don't want you to know or even notice it's there as long as it does it's job for them.

Universal seems to be the type to not give a shit about quality and probably doesn't care if you notice as long as it doesn't affect their bottom line.

 
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