“Watermarking offers copyright protection by letting a company track music that finds its way to illegal peer-to-peer networks. At its most precise, a watermark could encode a unique serial number that a music company could match to the original purchaser.” This is how Wired describes watermarking a technique that the record companies may substitute for DRM. If you think DRM is intrusive imagine how watermarking might work.

You buy a CD – Lawrence Welk’s Greatest Hits. It’s watermarked. After a few years of steady listening you decide you’re ready to move on. So you sell the recording at a garage sale but with a little seller’s remorse. Susan Salami buys the disc. Her 16 year old son is a passionate Lawrence Welk fan. He takes the recording and plays it constantly in his car’s CD player. He listens so often that he leaves the disc in the player. He comes back from the orthodontist to find that the CD player has been stolen from his car.

Later the thief discovers the disc in his purloined player. Not being a Lawrence Welk fan he throws the disc away. A homeless person goes through the garbage bin and finds the discarded CD. This homeless person is a great fan of Lawrence Welk but doesn’t have a CD player. So this homeless person takes the disc with him to the homeless shelter where he often goes for a warm meal. While eating he listens to the recording on the shelter’s stereo system. When he leaves he forgets to take the disc with him or perhaps leaves it behind because there is no stereo system where this homeless person plans to spend the night.

The next day the shelter’s social worker comes across the disc. No one claims it, so the social worker takes it home with her for her son who is a devoted fan of Lawrence Welk. The son uploads the contents of the entire disc to a file-sharing site where it proves to be a runaway bestseller – uh, best downloader. Millions of Lawrence Welk’s biggest hits are thus distributed. Several servers crash. This is too big to ignore. The RIAA becomes aware of this fraud and calls in the FBI.

The FBI reads the watermark that was imprinted on the CD that was uploaded and which is also on every file from New York to New Zealand. The watermark, of course, has your name on it. The FBI runs your name through their computers, but nothing turns up. One of the agent’s daughters is in the office because of ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’. She has her laptop with her. She runs your name with her little computer and finds three unpaid parking tickets and four overdue library books, one of which is “1984” and the 12 million downloaded files. The FBI springs into action.

You are arrested and found guilty of violating 12 million counts of the Digital Millennium Act. You are sentenced to 12 million years – one year for each illegal download, but the judge lets you serve them concurrently. But your fine is $12 million. The RIAA files a civil suit.

When you get out of jail your spouse has divorced you and taken the children to Las Vegas. You’ve been fired. You file for bankruptcy and lose. You’re homeless. In desperation, you start rummaging through garbage bins. You find a CD. It’s Lawrence Welk’s Greatest Hits.