How we caught our first film pirate using blockchain technology

Fred Lutz
Fred Lutz
Jun 25, 2018 · 3 min read
Photo by Rainy Lake on Unsplash

The nice thing about building a blockchain technology that does not rely on the price of any cryptocurrency or token is that our solution remains equally effective through the waxing and waning of the markets. In April we celebrated our 100,000th copy of a film protected by the Custos blockchain technology. At the time, we had not had a single pirated leak. It turned out that the warning about the tracking technology embedded in each recipient’s copy was enough to deter piracy for all would-be pirates. The number of protected copies has increased since then to over 140,000, and [drumroll] we caught some pirates!

Custos is the first company in the world to use blockchain technology to catch a pirate red-handed. This is big news both to the blockchain and media industries.

Deterring leaks is exactly what the technology is intended to do. The fact that we add tracking technology to each copy is meant to instil a credible threat of detection on any would-be pirate. (If you are interested in why the blockchain is critical to our technology, you can see my earlier post here.) Zero leaks from over 140,000 movies exceeded even our own expectations about how effective the technology would be. Our main market is for pre- or early release movies, where you expect between 20–60% of titles leaked. We effectively stopped early stage piracy.

Although we have run extensive controlled tests on the technology (if you are interested in the details of some of them see this post) we never had the opportunity to test the technology end-to-end in a real-world application. That changed when a customer approached us with a special request. They had rights to a catalog of movies and series they resell to distributors for local distribution. They were using a normal FTP application to distribute their movies and knew they had a leak. Someone they knew was re-uploading their content to pirate sites before it even reached the theatrical window. They wanted to stop the piracy; but first, they needed to know who the bad apples were so that they could cut ties with them.

We deployed a white-labeled version of our Screener Copy VOD platform, hosted on AWS cloud infrastructure, that they could use to showcase and distribute their catalog (see this post by our CTO, Herman Lintvelt, about different ways customers can integrate with our technology). One special change we made for them was to remove all the notices we add explaining the tracking technology that is meant to deter pirates. A buyer using the site would not know that their copy contained the blockchain tracking technology, since our watermarks are imperceptible.

It worked! Using the blockchain trackers we were able to trace back leaks to two individuals. The first was clearly a casual pirate who only leaked a single title. The second, however, was evidently a bigger fish. This pirate had mass downloaded and pirated their full catalog — over 90 titles! The technology worked exactly as intended, and our customer can now deal with these pirates as they see fit (see this post by Jon Roth, our Content Protection Consultant, on what can be done when your movie is pirated). After some examples have been made, we can switch the warning notifications back on, and our customer can enjoy the deterrent effect of the credible threat of detection.

Naturally, both our team and our customer are incredibly excited about this. This has been an ongoing problem for years that we managed to solve quickly and effectively. For us, it served as the first end-to-end success story of the Custos technology in the film market. Now that we have solved this persistent and existential threat in the film market, I guess we can move to the next market. We already have partnerships in the ebook industry and early trials in the music and document protection industries.

While everyone’s hodling through this bear market, we buidl.

Custos Media Technologies

A blockchain startup on a mission to protect content owners and distributors of digital media from piracy. We use cryptocurrency and forensic watermarking to incentivise a global network of bounty hunters to notify us when your content gets leaked online.

Fred Lutz

Written by

Fred Lutz

COO and Co-Founder of Custos

Custos Media Technologies

A blockchain startup on a mission to protect content owners and distributors of digital media from piracy. We use cryptocurrency and forensic watermarking to incentivise a global network of bounty hunters to notify us when your content gets leaked online.

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