Making your Watermark

Written by Chris Caines

February 11, 2005 | 00:00

Tags: #animation #drm #flash #ringtone #watermark

Whilst browsing the Inquirer (the dot net edition) recently I noticed a story about the 'is it or isn't it' state of the Crazy Frog's genitalia. (On a side note it was only after reading the story I realised it was penned by our one and only Wil Harris, who unknown to me obviously takes an interest in the wedding tackle of computer generated ranines). For those of you unfamiliar with the Crazy Frog phenomena, it is simply an advert for sound-effect-now-ringtone which was funny several years ago, however to anyone with an Internet connection, is wearing distinctly thin. In fact, if I hear it go off in a pub (coupled with the whoops of laughter it generates) I do wonder if these people have ever even heard of the Internet as I was still seeing it peddled in it's original form as recently as a year ago.

"Daniel got lucky, he was contacted by all the right, ethical people and was properly looked after when it came to making money from his vocal abilities."

Now, my comments are not on whether the aforementioned frog is showing his tadpole factory or not, but on the actual ringtone itself. When I first saw this grating advert in-between shows on Challenge TV I immediately thought "Hold on, that's that Flash web page with the racing car. That's nothing to do with frogs!" Lo and behold after a couple of confirmatory listens it was indeed the original sound effect created by Daniel Malmedahl to get a laugh with his friends. Daniel went on, with his friend Erik Wernquist, to create the whole Crazy Frog idea which was, eventually bought by Jamster for use as a ringtone. The happy ending in all this is that Daniel is making a healthy profit from the 'world's most popular ringtone' and everyone, except the people who have to listen to it, is happy.

However, this does raise one important point about the public domain. Daniel got lucky, he was contacted by all the right, ethical people and was properly looked after when it came to making money from his vocal abilities. However, and as I assumed when I first heard the advert, he could quite simply have been ripped off and then had to have been put in the rocky situation of fighting for his right to either have it removed from sale, getting his cut of the pie or, like many people simply accepting that a big company has gone www.ham.bam.thankyou.maam and nicked their idea, knowing they're in no position to fight it. Several, if not tens or even hundreds of ideas have been poached off unsuspecting Internet artists and, whilst I'd love to go into some here I don't particularly fancy a lawsuit myself, but I can leave you to bring to mind some of the more obvious examples of things which have been around the Internet for ages then suddenly picked up by an unscrupulous corporation.

Back in the good old days, people could create these things for fun and know that it was all in high-spirits to entertain their friends; it'd go round a group of a few people and be forgotten about. Now, with anything and everything going viral (unless of course it passes through MY Email Server) your crudely drawn Flash animation is the comedy flavour of the month. It's easy enough to chop the site stamp from the file and claim it as your own; it's even easier with an array of technology at your disposal to make it look like you created it in the first place.
To be honest, Copyright and Intellectual Property theft goes on all the time and fighting your corner is one of the hardest things in the world for new artists, designers and inventors. Hence (you'd think) the advent of DRM technology which, whilst obviously a great leap forward in content protection, has been applied with a trowel instead of a paintbrush by the big cheeses. They say prevention is better than a cure; however prevention for the headache of music piracy seems to be to lop your head off rather than pop a couple of Ibuprofen tablets. What we really need to strive for is a digital Watermark, available to all which people can electronically and securely sign any kind of digital creation. You create anything from an image or song to a computer program or Flash animation then sign it with an unerasable watermark which stamps it in your name from the time it was created through however many copies and redistributions. If it's stolen, then even if someone creates an exact copy, your original is already imprinted with your moniker and date.

"If it's stolen, then even if someone creates an exact copy, your original is already imprinted with your moniker and date."

Ok, it's not great for the music or film industry because we already know that Spider Man is produced by Columbia Pictures, however it could at least be applied to various types of distribution to see where their leaks are coming from. When someone downloads a track from iTunes it stamps the original downloader's details onto it and should that copy find its way onto the net, then you have your first sharer. Right now, I'm sensing implosions from people who are waiting to dig flaws in my idea, however I'm not saying it's completely practical for every eventuality and I'm sure it would need refining, however, what it does at least protect against is the smaller people who spend their time creating their ideas ensuring that they have a weapon against highly paid and motivated lawyers.

If you want to be famous for 15Mb, the Internet is the place to be seen. Remember the names of Daniel Malmedahl (Crazy Frog becomes Jamster), Jonti Picking (Weebl and Bob become Anchor Butter) and Joel Veitch (Singing Kittens become Switch/Maestro) as they were some of the few who got lucky. Let's hope at some point technology can ensure more recognition for those out there regularly pumping this great stuff out, but risk the lottery of Internet fame and the fortune it may, or may not bring.
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