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We consider unequal error protection strategies for the efficient progressive transmission of embedded image codes over noisy channels. In progressive transmission, the reconstruction quality is important not only at the target transmission rate but also at the intermediate rates. An adequate error protection strategy may, thus, consist of optimizing the average performance over the set of intermediate rates. The performance can be the expected number of correctly decoded source bits or the expected distortion. For the rate-based performance, we prove some interesting properties of an optimal solution and give an optimal linear-time algorithm to compute it. For the distortion-based performance, we propose an efficient linear-time local search algorithm. For a binary symmetric channel, two state-of-the-art source coders (SPIHT and JPEG2000), we compare the progressive ability of our proposed solutions to that of the strategies that optimize the end-to-end performance of the system. Experimental results showed that the proposed solutions had a slightly worse performance at the target transmission rate and a better performance at most of the intermediate rates, especially at the lowest ones.