Broadside for MP3 pirates may kill indie labels

skull & bones.jpgThe music industry has been looking for a way to protect their intellectual property ever since MP3 files became popular. We hear that the war against piracy is reaching new levels with an upcoming MP3 standard.

Using techniques akin to those formerly employed in viruses, the new MP3 file format includes an anti-tamper trigger that corrupts the entire player’s directory if it detects specific bytes distributed through the code.

Researcher Sally Padiforo from the University of Piory, Dallas, Texas, devised the SILFOR (Secreted InLine File Order Randomization) algorithm at the heart of the new format. She said, “Even if the file is re-recorded to bypass the protection, the SILFOR payload will be passed on to the new recording.”

Padiforo calls the new format Broadside MP3 (BS3) and it requires BS3 enabled players to decode the music files. All of the major MP3 player manufacturers, including mobile phone vendors, have pledged to switch to the new format when it gains ratification as a standard. Mandatory operating system upgrades will appear on the companies’ sites when the BS3 standard is enforced exactly 12 months from today. BS3 files will not play on current MP3 players without the upgrade and the promise of lossless, high compression and unbreakable protection has even won over “key companies” who currently use proprietary formats, Padiforo told Computer Weekly in an exclusive interview.

When the new system is in operation, it will scan the files for the encoded signature. If the signature is missing from any BS3 files on the player or any files in other formats contain the SILFOR payload, it will trash the directory, display a message stating “Illegal file filename.extension” and lock up the device. The player will have to be reset and reloaded omitting the offending file. This will only apply to files with a date stamp later than 01-04-2010. This means that non-BS3 files created before the deadline will still be considered legal. Changing the date on a converted BS3 file will not work because the SILFOR signature will still be present.

It is believed that the release of the new format is being delayed so that a video equivalent can be simultaneously launched next April. The format exists but gaining agreement from the movie industry and video-player manufacturers is currently under discussion because of the technical complexities of upgrading existing DVD systems.

My take on the new standard is that it is another attempt by the music industry to stifle competition from independent music publishers as well as stamping out piracy. Padiforo claims that licences for the encoding process will probably be in the region of $10,000 per year and applicants will be vetted by the soon-to-be-announced elite SILFORum syndicate of “interested parties”.

Computer Weekly feels that BS3 amounts to protectionism and should be stopped in its tracks. We believe it could contravene EU laws and a petition and further information can be found at our Stamp Out The SILFOR Payload site. Please sign the petition today and put an end to this abomination.