The explosive growth of Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms has revolutionised the way we consume entertainment, offering convenient access to a vast array of content on-demand. However, this meteoric rise in popularity has brought with it a persistent and pervasive threat: piracy. Unauthorised distribution and consumption of copyrighted material pose significant challenges for OTT platforms, content creators, and rights holders.
Understanding the Impact of Piracy on OTT Platforms
The unauthorised distribution of copyrighted content leads to substantial financial losses for content creators and rights holders. Moreover, piracy erodes consumer confidence, hampers the growth of legal distribution channels, and stifles innovation within the industry.
Avigail Gutman, Synamedia’s VP Intelligence and Security Operations believes that securing content requires securing not only the content, but also the service that distributes the content.
“The initial platforms that were launched 10 to 15 years ago were all launched without any thought of security,” she said. “Everybody thought the quality was not going to be as good as satellite or broadcast and I think it wasn’t considered something worth protecting at the time. And all of a sudden there was this eruption of huge amounts of content.”
The shift from traditional closed end-to-end distribution systems to internet delivery has changed the nature of video piracy. “This is an open system,” said Gutman. “It’s not that walled garden of satellite broadcasts, that you can only see things if you’re under the footprint, and the distribution system is physically protected on-prem. The content is up in the cloud, and cloud security has developed along with OTT security, so it’s not it’s not there yet. The entry barrier for a hacker of a satellite system is very high. They have to understand hardware, they have to understand software, and they have to take specific security systems apart in order to break them, and it’s costly. In OTT it’s not like that. It starts with the HDMI port. And if everything is watermarked, then you’re not going to take your content from the HDMI, or from the set top box, or from the legitimate app - you’re going to modify the app or you’re going to go direct to the CDN (Content Delivery Network).”
Gutman explained the ease of gaining access to CDNs. “Today on the dark web, you can go in and buy huge repositories of credentials,” she said. “There are tools that are used to parse those credentials according to what they’re good for. These are good for banks. Those are good for video. You’ll never get caught because you’re using somebody’s legitimate credentials.”
Protection, Robust Digital Rights Management (DRM) Systems and Watermarking Techniques
Because security in the OTT environment requires more than having one big lock on one big door, one of the fundamental pillars of anti-piracy efforts is the implementation of robust Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems and watermarking. Beyond the familiar DOGs (Digital Onscreen Graphics), invisible watermarks are imperceptible to viewers but can be detected using specialised software. These watermarks enable forensic analysis, allowing content owners to identify the source of unauthorised leaks.
Tim Pearson, Vice President Global Solution Marketing at Nagra stressed the importance of taking a multifaceted approach to combat piracy. “In today’s industry there are increasing levels of collaboration which provide a real and visible deterrent to the pirates,” he said. “Increasingly, content owners are requiring organisations who wish to license their content to commit to forensic watermarking to ensure full traceability in the case of a leak,” he continued.
“Further, multi-DRM is no longer sufficient to protect streaming services and so broader security frameworks are being selected by operators to ensure both their content and service remain safe from pirates.”
Mathieu Harel, Senior Product Manager at Viaccess-Orca emphasised the need for cooperation because of disintermediated nature of the OTT ecosystem. “It makes our job as an anti-piracy provider really difficult because we no longer have full control of the content security on the distribution channel. We need to coordinate with many actors like service delivery platforms, DRM vendors, and even other DRM backend providers,” he said. “Customers need to have analytics in place to be able to detect if they are impacted by attacks. And because we are dealing with multi-actor environments, we need to have analytics pretty much everywhere on the distribution channel.”
Global Efforts and Legislative Support
Effective anti-piracy measures require collaboration among various stakeholders within the OTT industry. Content creators, rights holders, OTT platforms, and law enforcement agencies must work together to combat piracy comprehensively. Sharing intelligence, exchanging best practices, and establishing streamlined communication channels are essential to identify and address piracy threats effectively.
Legislative support plays a crucial role in the fight against piracy. Governments around the world are enacting and strengthening laws to protect intellectual property rights and curb piracy activities. OTT platforms and technology vendors are actively engaging with lawmakers and policy influencers to advocate for robust legal frameworks that deter piracy and protect the interests of content creators.
“Video has suffered from being the bottom of the priority list,” said Synamedia’s Gutman. “Police will tell you, ‘We’ve got murder, we’ve got bank robbers, we’ve got rape.’ It’s really resourcing priorities by government. I think it’s coming, there’s a lot of new legislation. There’s legislation in the US that criminalises piracy and has turned it from a misdemeanour to a felony; there’s EU legislation against piracy. It’s not unified yet, it’s not recognised as mandated, and certainly every country does something different, but I think I think increasingly countries are looking at the internet as critical infrastructure.”
Nagra’s Pearson highlighted the role that vendors play in this aspect. “We have helped leading organisations identify pirate activities and our solutions have delivered intelligence about both the pirates and their wider ecosystem to bring about successful prosecutions,” he said.
Striking a Balance: Protecting Content and User Experience
While implementing stringent anti-piracy measures, OTT platforms must also prioritise the user experience. Excessive security measures, such as intrusive DRM implementations, can frustrate legitimate users and push them toward piracy. Striking the right balance between content protection and an optimal viewing experience is crucial for the long-term success of OTT platforms.
Marc Scarpa, Co-founder, DiFiance Media believes that the industry’s models need to evolve.
“It’s quite simple really, there’s no way to stop media piracy,” he said. “If somebody wants to record the Superbowl, they’re going to be able to do it, and if someone wants to rebroadcast the Superbowl live to their own micro-audience, they can do that too via any number of different ways.”
“In the case of say, Twitch, they don’t seem to mind,” he said. “They’re mostly a gaming platform and the folks that are putting those big events on don’t really care if someone is pirating the stream, rebroadcasting it, and then adding their commentary to it. Almost like Mystery Science Theatre 3000.”
“You have the old guard of media that is caught up in the rights and the copyright issues in piracy cannibalising their property and their IP, which is fully understandable,” continued Scarpa. “And then you have the exact opposite side - the eSports world and the gaming world where they’re saying, ‘Well go ahead and cannibalise it and put your spin on what’s going on. We want you to do that.’”
“If you look at the numbers of some of these massive eSports events, they have viewership that’s better than the Oscars and the Grammys, and on par with the Super Bowl. So that there’s a there’s a logic to, let’s say, ‘approved privacy’, that helps perpetuate the growth of an industry and makes more of a community feeling around the event itself,” he said.
“It’s almost about how to make piracy a good word - make it virality, make it fair use for the person that’s adding their commentary to your special event. Maybe I pay a small licencing fee to be officially allowed to restream the PGA masters, and then I’m able to monetise my commentary on that live broadcast,” he explains. “The fact is, your audience is making comments - the people watching in the pub, the people watching at home. So why not allow them to share that with somebody else and monitor and make money from it. It’s not via mass media, it’s via their audience. And by the way, the anti-piracy software tools, all have a place. But what they should be doing is building those tools in the context of helping to facilitate a legal way for people to, to restream these programmes. Empower your superfan, just like you empower the pub to be able to have football matches playing.”
As the industry continues to expand its reach and viewership, the battle against piracy becomes increasingly critical. With continued advancements in technology, strengthened collaborations, and global efforts, the battle against piracy will continue to evolve, ensuring that content creators receive the recognition and compensation they deserve, while viewers can enjoy high-quality content in a secure environment.
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