Deakin University researchers have helped find the keys to lock out digital music pirates through a newly-developed method that doesn't compromise the quality of files.
The music industry is expected to jump on the major technological breakthrough which could wipe out piracy, a scourge that is estimated to cost €35 billion a year in lost revenue in Europe alone.
Researchers from Deakin's School of Information Technology, together with researchers from Japan's Aizu University, have developed a new watermarking process that leaves a trail of who has illegally distributed a file, without affecting the quality of the original audio.
Lead researcher on the project, Deakin University School of Information Technology Associate Professor Yong Xiang, said the new method was the most robust yet, with almost 100 per cent detection rate under most common attacks.
Associate Professor Xiang said the technology breakthrough would have enormous ramifications for the music industry in an era in which music was not only more accessible, but more susceptible to piracy than ever before.
"Improvements to technology have been enormously positive for the music industry in that artists' music is now more readily available to consumers all around the world, but unfortunately advances in locking such music away from illegal pirates has not kept up at the same speed as its accessibility," Associate Professor Xiang said.
"Pirating is a major issue for the music industry world-wide and in the global context, 95 per cent of music downloads are illegal.
"In Australia, around 2.8 million people download music illegally via file sharing networks.
"This causes enormous amounts of lost sales revenue and royalties to producers, musicians and other performers.
"In European countries alone, music piracy would result in €240 billion retail revenue loss in the period from 2008 to 2015."
Associate Professor Xiang said watermarking worked by hiding watermark data, such as publisher name, signature, logo, ID number and other user information into the actual multimedia object without affecting its normal usage.
"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."
The research is to be published in the latest edition of IEEE/ACM Transactions on Audio, Speech, and Language Processing.
The proposed method is robust to de-synchronisation attacks common in previous methods developed, including pitch-scaling, time-scaling, and jitter attacks, along with other conventional attacks such as re-quantisation, noise, amplitude, compression, re-sampling and filtering.