Groundbreaking technology which plants a digital watermark on illegally downloaded music has been developed by a Birmingham company.
The launch of Friend For Music by Friend For Media, is being heralded as a major breakthrough in the fight against music piracy, which cost the UK music industry £180 million last year.
Latest figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) revealed that 40 billion files are illegally shared, with 95 per cent of all music downloaded illegally.
The new technology will enable artists and record labels to sell their content to fans securely within data protection rules at the same time as preventing piracy.
Friend For Media has clients including Revolver Records, Nachural Records and Mr Bongo Records and the company is in advanced negotiations with a number of larger labels and artists, which can’t be named due to confidentially clauses.
Jonathan Friend, creator of the technology, said: “The basis of the anti-piracy technology is that after a sale, at the time the music or video is actually being downloaded, the content is impregnated with a unique code in a way that is imperceptible to the listener or viewer, and cannot be removed without also destroying the content.
“This code, etched into the sound or video, is similar to the processes that are used for protecting pre-release material. However, the technology has been developed for the sales environment through massive speed optimisations and an enhancement of the security and durability of the watermark itself.
“This allows us to trace any copy that has been illegally copied or shared anywhere in the world in a very short time.”
Mr Friend said although similar technology had been used to stop pre-released material being circulated before an embargo, this technology was designed for large volumes.
Friend For Music also provides its customers with platform hosting, secure storage of content, fraud screening and credit card processing, as well as regulation-compliant storage of fans’ personal information, delivery of the content and post-delivery monitoring and protection.
Current clients include ‘‘major sporting events’’, which can’t be revealed due to sensitivity agreements, where broadcast content is fingerprinted and illegal sites can be shut down immediately.
Illegal music downloading continues to be a major problem for recording artists. R&B singer Taio Cruz, who recently had a UK number one hit called Dynamite, is the latest in a long line of artists who have publicly urged fans not to download music illegally.
Mr Friend said the reaction from the industry regarding the launch of the technology, had been excellent: “Virtually every artist has come out to say something about illegal downloading, from Elton John to Metallica.’’
The technology has already quietly rolled out, but the company cannot say for contractual reasons who is using it.