UMG Watermarks Audiophile Files, Pisses Off Paying Customers

Let’s say, just for analogy’s sake, you had a defense contractor that supplied weapons and ammunition to Earth’s army. Let’s say that army was going to war with the evil pod people from the planet Dah-Rull. And let’s say that this defense contractor, named Universal Munitions Group, supplied the good guys with new bullet rounds that they promised would completely obliterate the Dah-Rull pod people and make everyone on Earth happy again.

Now let’s say that when Earth’s army confronted their enemy and fired their weapons…the bullets, instead of firing, simply blew up, taking the limbs of Earth’s infantry with them. As a result, the pod people were free to take over the world. You’d be pretty pissed, wouldn’t you? Unless you’re a pod-person, I mean?

Yet that’s about how effective Universal Music Group’s latest attempt at watermarking is. You can read the fascinating exchange on the message board of, but here’s the skinny. A customer of Passionato, a site dedicated to bringing audiophiles high quality recordings of classical music, notices that he was getting an odd thrumming noise on his FLAC file of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony that he got from Passionato (the file was advertised as lossless), a noise that wasn’t present on the file he got directly from UMG. There’s some back and forth between helpful board members about some technical issues that could have been the problem, but eventually, after multiple users go and test files similarly, they arrive at the conclusion that it must be watermarking. It culminates with someone from Passionato showing up and indicating that the file received was faithfully translated from whatever UMG supplied the site, meaning that any sound artifacts would have been the result of UMG’s file, not a technical issue resulting from compression or file extension switches. Basically, UMG watermarked files being distributed through their partners. Files which are being advertised as lossless recordings for audiophiles.

A couple of things were clear in that board exchange:

First, nice try, UMG, but this isn’t going to accomplish what you want it to. You’re talking about a dedicated group of audiophiles here. There were all manner of suggestions for nixing the watermarking, from pirating an un-watermarked file (keeping in mind that it was already purchased in what was supposed to be lossless format), to doing a cut and paste remixing of the file from a clean one to cut out the artifact. Either way, it can be done away with.

Second, these are your damned customers! Seriously, as ridiculous as my opening analogy was, this is equally stupid. Your watermarking is only pissing off paying customers. Now they have to, in addition to… you know… giving you money, go around and figure out a way to fix what you screwed up for them. And that’s going to make them buy from you in the future? And that did what exactly to keep the files from being pirated elsewhere?

I can’t believe I have to say this to an established company, but: UMG, customers are people, too. Stop screwing with people and sell the product as advertised, or you’ll find you’ll have no more customers left to piss off.

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