A South African start up has come up with a new way to use Bitcoin and its blockchain technology to provide media owners with a means to keep recipients from redistributing copyrighted content.

How it works

Custos Media Technologies’ “tracking technology” enables copies of uploaded media to have imperceptible watermarks that go with a bounty - a Bitcoin private key - which can be claimed by anyone who uses a free tool.

The bounty can be claimed anonymously from anywhere but once. It will appear on the blockchain within seconds of being claimed. When that happens, it will alert the client - the legitimate owner of the content.

Since the technology is designed to make Custos’ core IP identify the “original infringer” of the pirated content – the user who first rips a movie and uploads it, or shares their copy of an e-book on-line, the alert will help determine if the content is being accessed by an unauthorized user.

The detection, the company says, it enables media owners to “audit” the media recipients, honour their licenses, and do not distribute the content. Since media recipients know that they can be traced, it provides a very strong disincentive to leak content in the first place.

The company’s spokesperson says in an email:

“However, the rapid detection is also valuable to our clients. For example, if a movie owner knows soon enough that a pirate copy of a pre-release screener is already being circulated (but perhaps not visible on the public internet yet), they can take mitigating steps to minimise revenue losses, for example by moving an official release date ahead to avoid the situation where the only publicly available copy of a movie is the pirated one.

Our system does play nicely with traditional DRM, though it's entirely possible to combine our Bitcoin watermarks with technology (e.g. Microsoft Silverlight) that makes it very difficult to rip and copy the movie in the first place. However, when such a breach does occur, Custos makes it possible to rapidly detect it.”

Tracking stolen content globally

This innovation, targeted at the global content protection market to rapidly discover when recipients infringe on their licenses, has attracted and received a funding injection of R5.9 million (approximately $401,478) over the next two years from the Technology Innovation Agency, a public entity established by an Act of the South African Parliament.

According to G­J van Rooyen, CEO of Custos, the company uses the Blockchain to outsource the search for infringed content in the global media piracy market which is estimated to vary in its worth depending on whether each pirated media item is considered as a lost sale or piracy is seen to be a net positive for the media industry as a type of “free marketing”.

In an email to Cointelegraph, he states:

“We work with a conservative estimate that digital piracy costs the Western movie industry (i.e. mostly Hollywood) approximately $22 billion annually. The content protection market (digital rights management and rights enforcement; again, just for the movie industry) is valued at approximately $2.5 billion.

This gives a rough idea of the total addressable market for Custos' technology, just in the film industry. However, our technology can also be used to protect e-books, documents, music, audio books, software, and a whole range of other media types.

Custos' audit system allows media owners to know who the 99% of their honest users are and treat them without suspicion. The very few malicious users can be cut off, to prevent future breaches.”

Van Rooyen also notes that his company chose to focus on the global content protection market because it was formed specifically to bring the technology invented at and patented by Stellenbosch University, to the market.

Aside Stellenbosch University’s institutional investment, TIA and New York-based Digital Currency Group’s investments give the start up both capital and access to strong networks.

Custos currently serves clients in the film industry and is collaborating with UK-­based Erudition Digital to bring their solution to e-books publishing.