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The Streaming Media West conference was as informative as it was eventful for Verimatrix. In between sitting on a panel addressing the state of streaming piracy and collecting the DRM/Access Control Service Provider Readers’ Choice Award for our StreamMark watermarking solution, I attended a handful of sessions about where the world of online video is headed. Some of the most intriguing sessions pertained to data analytics and machine learning – both of which I anticipate will continue to have a powerful influence over the way we detect piracy. In fact, they are tools that we really need because the industry is still failing at preventing piracy.

This bold truth was centric to the discussion had during the panel “Locked Out and Locked Up: The State of Streaming Piracy and What You Can Do to Protect Your Content, “ which sought to discuss the latest methods in mitigating stream piracy and protecting premium content. My fellow panelists from Limelight Networks, Twentieth Century Fox and Kudelski Group were all in agreement that in today’s landscape, piracy has never been easier.

Piracy is the easiest crime in the world to commit because it is difficult to get caught, and, for the most part, no punishments are enforced. The tools used to protect content as it gets distributed over any network, any device, are the same ones used by pirates for illicit redistribution. Furthermore, what used to be a difficult task can now be done by essentially anyone with a smartphone – they can record right from their screens and do so in high quality.

However, it is important to note that today, the majority of the general public is accessing content legally, so we are doing something right. This was emphasized by Ron Wheeler of Twentieth Century Fox who kicked off the session by showcasing Fox’s recent successes with using watermarking to protect Early Release Window content in Korea. Using the chart below, he revealed how many days it took for a movie to be pirated after it was released, with 2-4 weeks being considered a great success.

This is very telling as to where we are as an industry – no one is shocked when content is pirated, rather it is expected, and the later it occurs, the better. There is a sense of accomplishment in finding the hackers, but in reality, shouldn’t the goal be to protect content forever?

Fox is indeed proving to make progress in preventing piracy, but it is a small step in what needs to be an industry-wide journey. What Fox is doing right is embedding warnings about the punishments to be faced by pirates in the content itself (similar to the FBI warnings we used to see after pressing play on a VHS tape) and actually enforcing punishments, taking pirates all the way to legal prosecution. This sends a strong message – if you steal our content, you will pay the price – however, it is only effective when consistently reinforced. This is the golden rule for effective content protection: it doesn’t matter if Fox is deploying watermarking when another distributor of the same content is not - pirates will find the vulnerability and exploit it. Ron was quick to note that any content that didn’t have a warning was pirated immediately.

It is also important to understand that not one tool or policy can solve everything when it comes to piracy – prevention needs to consist of encryption, DRM and monitoring from end to end. Circling back to my earlier comment about machine learning and data analytics, these are two important tools that can be used to trace piracy to the source by means of detecting patterns and anomalies. Pirates look very different in the ways they are accessing content, so with these tools and a dose of common sense, we have a very powerful ability to tell a typical TV subscriber apart from a thief and take action accordingly.

You can watch the full recording of the panel session below.

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