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Music lovers have reveled in-and devoured-free digital music.The catch is that artists’property rights got lost in the shuffle as online consumers ignored copyright laws that are meant to prevent the unauthorized copying and distribution of recorded music.Without a secure way to track music files online, artists find themselves losing control over their own creations as well as the ability to profit from them.

Enter Digital Media on Demand (DMOD), a Boston-based startup that has made secure distribution of online music its mission.DMOD’s four cofounders recognized before most others that digital distribution necessitated technologies to protect and manage artists’ rights; they have spent the past several years developing an encryption protocol that will allow artists to encode and track online files. Whereas most encryption systems use one key to provide secure, limited access to a file, DMOD’s uses many. In fact, according to Sam Headrick, director of development, a different encryption key could be applied to each second of audio, or for each line of text. “This increases the complexity of cracking the file by many degrees,” Headrick says.

DMOD’s protocol provides additional security through “watermarks.” Each watermark stamps content with new data-inaudible to the human ear in audio files-that traces the file back to the artist who uploaded it and to the consumer who downloaded it. The protocol encrypts files “on the fly,”as they’re delivered.”At the moment you decide to acquire a piece of content, the keys are generated and the file is encrypted based on those dynamic keys,” Headrick explains.”Every transaction is a separate and autonomously secure data transmission.”

Security precautions like these could put copyright control back in the hands of artists. “Even if content owners want to give files away for free, they should still be able to track their files,”says DMOD chief operating officer Brett Fasullo.”Secure distribution means a lot more than being able to sell media files online.”

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