Piracy may be seen as mere statistics, or collateral damage, looking from the perspective of industry giants with healthy revenues – Netflix or HBO alike. But the scale of piracy could effectively ruin smaller studios, or make niche productions simply financially unviable due to the crippled sales figures.

It is expected that video will make up for a staggering 80% of global internet traffic by 2021, and piracy will continue to be a problem. Experts say illegal downloads will cost the industry $52 billion in lost revenues by the year 2022 if no efficient antipiracy solution is found and adopted. This would mean a huge increase in revenue lost to piracy from an already high $31.8 billion in 2017.

Where does the system fail? And how could blockchain be the answer?

Today’s anti-piracy technologies used in video are somewhat ineffective due to several reasons. Methods like watermarking or CAP coding are relatively easily fooled by transcoding the videos, cropping the frames or slightly shifting the colors so the watermark is no longer identifiable.
Even the combination of watermarking, monitoring, and anti-piracy countermeasures don’t necessarily solve every piracy problem, there are other solutions publishers can employ.

Technical Anti-piracy Solutions

There is no one-cure-all as far as anti-piracy measures go, but a combination of a few techniques will certainly make illegal distribution of video content more tedious. Here are a few technical solutions providers of streaming video can employ:

  • SSL encryption, to ensure that user credentials remain private.
  • Two-factor authentication.
  • Linking user credentials to individual devices.
  • Limitation of the number of active devices used by a single account.
  • Implementing tamper-resistant video players that support software obfuscation – making critical software components within the player invisible to the potential hacker.
  • Other countermeasures available to non-IP set-top boxes include stopping the delivery of keys, disabling the device, disabling access, and implementing selective output control.

Non-technical Solutions Include:

  • Stronger relationships with law enforcement for faster detection and more efficient action against piracy.
  • Collaboration with online content providers, social networks, internet search providers, search engines, and other internet constituencies for joint efforts against.
  • Promoting anti-piracy awareness with the general public through relevant campaigns.
  • Implementing paths of reporting to minimize exposure to instances of piracy when they are identified.

Legal Action

Litigation is one of the non-technical ways the media and entertainment industry can use to crack down on piracy. But although there are methods to discourage internet users from downloading copyrighted content, it involves cooperation of local authorities and requires ISPs to reveal the data of those who download illegally.

Six leading Hollywood studios, including Twentieth Century Fox and Disney, joined forces against illegal video downloads in 2017. According to the plaintiffs themselves, digital piracy cost the Irish economy an estimated 500 jobs and €320m during 2015 alone.

But, for some reason, we don’t read such headlines too often – which is strange considering the scale of piracy today. There may be a reason for that – such legal actions are only justified (both legally and financially) when there is much damage otherwise done. Smaller video production studios simply cannot afford to engage in such actions due to how expensive and ineffective they really are.

The sheer cost of litigation effectively defeats such efforts. An attempt to sue more than 20,000 people for sharing music files reportedly cost RIAA $64 million and led to a mere $1.36 million in compensation.
The disproportionate benefit of suing pirates necessitates a more efficient and bullet-proof anti-piracy method that the one that industry has at hand today. What’s needed is a method that makes piracy not only difficult from a technical perspective but also enables a way to track the culprits.

Why Aren’t Contemporary Video Copyright Protection Technologies Effective

Watermarking and CAP coding (using a distinguishing pattern of dots added during post-production, like a unique fingerprint) are good examples of anti-copyright infringement methods, but they only work to some extent. Most importantly, such methods do not stop the videos from being illegally copied in the first place. They merely help to track the culprit, but not until the damage has already been done.

Also, there are many ways to circumvent watermarking – transcoding, cropping, or using different color variations and erasure of logos using popular content editing software. Clearly, watermarks are outdated. They are good for paper money, but they hardly cut the mustard for digital content.
Watermarks allow to trace copies to the original piece of content, but only once it’s already been pirated. Which is actually only half the battle.

When trying to mitigate piracy, you can take one of the two approaches – prevention or punishment. The former is the better one – it helps plaintiffs to avoid all the negative press (imagine being the one who sues children) while keeps the revenues healthy.
Studios are increasingly looking into the possibilities of blockchain technology for the management and protection of original video content.

The Promise Of Blockchain For Video

Media and entertainment industry leaders are looking at blockchain to secure digital video content, build in payment gateways and find better ways to automate and systematize royalties.
Blockchain technology could keep the original video secured, but it comes with a caveat. The video cannot be parallelly distributed in any other (i.e. physical or non-blockchain) media. It would mean only opening the file when the owner confirms the transfer is legitimate – i.e. like in the case of coin transfers in cryptocurrencies. This makes copying files and giving others illicit access impossible without being a legitimate party in the transaction.

Simply put, a video system built on the blockchain would assume controlling the asset at all times, i.e. knowing who downloads, watches and owns the video. Every party in this arrangement ensures visibility of transfers.

Blockchain enables more comprehensive protection of video assets than watermarks alone. It introduces an additional barrier to illegal distribution – because the safeguards are embedded in the content itself, duplication, sharing, transferring or selling of ownership, even over an untrusted network is easily tracked.

Using Blockchain for Copyright Protection Still a Pipe Dream Due to Video File Sizes

Blockchain may seem like the ultimate cure for piracy, but it’s not quite ready yet. One of the key obstacles towards using blockchain to prevent video piracy is file size. Video files are simply too large and complex for blockchain, which would involve too much calculations and take incredible processing power. Even for the comparably simpler banking purposes, blockchain is still too slow.
If the size of the digital files gets reduced and every computer processing speed increases, blockchain could allow users to transfer videos securely, with all parties maintaining full visibility of the transfer.
This sounds great on paper, but would also mean that something as simple as playing a video would involve huge processing power and data transfers, which could be remedied by virtualization technology.

Last Words

To date, there has been no full-scale implementation of end-to-end video blockchain protection. But video virtualization’s ability to package content into smaller data files could solve the limitations of blockchain.
Various companies are already experimenting with blockchain solutions for protecting video. An American production company Two Roads Pictures Co. released an indie romantic comedy No Postage Necessary entirely distributed via peer-to-peer video network app Vevue, running on top of the Qtum blockchain.

The most robust way to curtail privacy would be stopping it from happening in the first place. At the core, the idea sounds very compelling, but because blockchain for video hasn’t really taken off for good, we can’t really envision how it impacts piracy.