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Three steps to curbing video piracy

The digital revolution that has and continues to flourish globally has led to a rise in consumer expectations. Access to their favourite movies, TV shows and live streaming

The digital revolution that has and continues to flourish globally has led to a rise in consumer expectations. Access to their favourite movies, TV shows and live streaming channels on any device, at anytime and of the highest quality has grown from a nicety to an expectation, with content owners enthusiastic to feed this demand. Concurrently, the battle against video piracy has intensified. Pirates – from smartphone-toting movie theatre to hackers and organised crime – continually exploit consumer demand and develop increasingly sophisticated infringement methods to spread their distribution footprint. This presents a vital need for broadcasters, content distributors, content owners, online distributors and operators to safeguard their assets and lessen the consequences of illegal access and distribution, especially for premium content such as early-release of movies or live sporting events. With a forthcoming expansion into UHD and HDR offerings, this protection prerequisite will become even more important than ever before.

While it is incumbent for content players to explore what combination of multifaceted protective measures work best for video security, we believe content protection most effectively involves a unified range of three fundamental pre- and post-access technologies. It is important for all the above players to understand how these methods work cohesively together to protect their most valuable, premium assets:

Conditional Access and Digital Rights Management

Conditional Access (CA) and Digital Rights Management (DRM) are both integrated encryption technologies that work to control unauthorised access to a variety of transmitted programming before the intended users access the intended content, but cover different elements of the content delivery system. In the CA model, the rights owner licenses networks to distribute content and take on the responsibility of determining the legitimacy of users who want content access – through subscriber management systems, subscriber authorisation systems and security modules. Essentially, users can access the broadcast content on the condition their account is valid and has access to the required options. DRM is a software-based protection model that works best for OTT content delivered to multiscreen devices for consumers who want to access content immediately, but also possibly watch it later.

Monitoring and takedown notices

Content becomes vulnerable to piracy the moment it is produced. Despite the strength of CA/DRM, windows for illicit seizing still remain after decryption or decoding. With the availability of broadband connection in anyone’s home, content theft has shifted from CA control-word sharing to video sharing, up to HD live re-streaming over P2P networks. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was enacted as a direct result of industry demand to implement copyright law to combat piracy, addressing the rights of copyrighted material owners and Internet service providers. By issuing takedown notices, these affected parties can legally mandate the removal of infringed content from unauthorised sources. Data suggests this has proven successful for file sharing sources like BitTorrent, that accounted for four percent of internet during peak evening hours in the US in 2015, down from 13 per cent in 2011, according to Sandvine. A network-level watermark will help to automatically confirm the rights ownership per distribution path.

Forensic watermarking

Though a DMCA takedown results in the removal of illicitly published content, it is unable to account for other sources that extracted and shared the respective content, like specifically hosted pirate services. This is where our area of expertise, forensic watermarking, comes into play, by enhancing content owners’ ability to detect and respond to any asset misuse. Watermarking embedding involves the insertion of a unique, invisible identifying code into a media asset to serve as contractual compliance between the content owners and intended subscriber regardless of how it might be transcoded, resized, downscaled or otherwise altered for distribution. Watermarking detection, the forensic component, identifies the source of unauthorised OTT, VoD and live TV re-streaming by a rogue subscriber. Both processes work across the entire quality spectrum from standard resolution live streaming apps to 4K/UHD and HDR.

A forensic watermark with fast turnaround time for detection will help to automatically locate the source of unauthorised live restreaming and organise actionable content protection during the sport event. While in the case of movie file sharing it will help the anti-piracy teams to collect intelligence about the type, make and model of devices often used for content theft and therefore spot potential security breaches.

Different content players across ranging sectors will have varying priorities when it comes to these imperative protection components. In the TV broadcasting world, live sporting events are the pantheon of prized premium content assets for pirates, with the greatest amount of effort dedicated to bypassing legal rights holders. Detection, therefore, must be made and subsequent action taken immediately to minimise loss. Football, cricket, F1, basketball and hockey are among many sports programming options that do not typically get free to air coverage, leaving them particularly susceptible to illegal redistribution. The plethora of consumer monetisation opportunities that exist along the movie and television content distribution chain – from cinema to VoD – are other prospective sources for content theft and illegal sharing, but the ‘live’ element of sports broadcasting remains the source of piracy gold.

The more valuable the content, the greater the need for comprehensive multi-stage protection. As evidenced by these three protection measures, it is imperative for broadcasters, operators and providers to be aware of how they all work cohesively to mitigate piracy across all points of prospective illicit redistribution.

By Pascal Marie, vice president of product management at NexGuard