DWA, MSI: Better Collaboration Needed Between WM Detection, Monitoring Systems


Better collaboration between the companies that provide watermark detection and monitoring services is drastically needed today to help put the kibosh on piracy, especially when it comes to live broadcasts, according to the Digital Watermarking Alliance (DWA) and Media Science International (MSI).

“We’ve heard a lot about forensic watermarking being a tool that is being used to deter piracy,” DWA senior consultant Rajan Samtani said during the session “The Collaboration Between Super-Fast WM Detection and Monitoring to Stop Piracy in its Tracks” Dec. 6 at the Content Protection Summit in Los Angeles.

In the last few years, forensic watermarking has become a “much more viable and popular technology,” he said. “What we want to discuss going forward is how do you actually make this stuff work? And you can go through all the pilots and determine how well the watermark actually works and how robust it is, how imperceptible it is. But the rubber really meets the road in terms of how do you actually make the monitoring system that is doing the monitoring work with the detection technology to actually find the infringements and prove that they are in fact being infringed by a pirate and then do something to take action against it so that the piracy can actually be deterred.”

What’s especially challenging is fighting live broadcast piracy, he noted, telling the summit: “One of the things that has happened in the last few years is that the impact of live piracy on things like sports is just really … taking a toll on the actual economics of the business.”

It’s been estimated that ESPN lost 13 million subscribers in recent years, at least some of which can be chalked up to piracy, he said. “That’s a lot of money coming out of Disney’s coffers,” he noted, estimating the loss at about $65 million a month, which he called a “decent chunk of change.”

For several years, we’ve had monitoring technologies that “crawl the web” to find pirated content and then companies send out takedown notices to offenders, he noted. With live broadcast content including sports, however, “by the time you send a takedown notice, the game is already over and the money is already lost,” he pointed out.

To help overcome that challenge, “we need to have collaboration, coordination, consistency and cooperative polices between the various parts of the value chain,” he said.

Detection technologies must use embedded watermarks for what they were designed for: deterring piracy, he said, but added: “The monitoring systems that need to go find the actual infringement don’t necessarily today work in concert with the detection technologies.”

When done correctly, monitoring technologies can quickly find an offending stream, download part of it, send it to a detector that identifies the offending set-top box, and then send a message to the conditional access provider to cut that person’s signal off, he explained. When that happens, “rather than sending a notice, you’re actually impeding the supply to that offending website,” he said. “This is the type of thing that we would like to be able to get to,” he said, stressing how important it is to cut signals off while a game or other live event is still being broadcast, to inform offending subscribers that their accounts have been suspended and viewers can’t watch the illicit streams anymore.

“Now, does that mean that we’re going to stop this completely? No,” he conceded. “But what you’re trying to do is … change the behavior and put impediments in it so that it becomes harder and harder to do,” he said, noting it will require legal assistance also.

One challenge the industry faces is that “we’ve allowed the behavior to perpetuate” too long among casual viewers, who have been able to gain easy access to loads of pirated content, he said.
Music industry workflows have “all but extinguished pre-release leaks,” according to Michael Gamble, MSI senior product and accounts manager.

The music industry uses embedded forensic watermarks and if a file is leaked online, there is continuous monitoring that searches for it and finds out where it came from, he said, adding: “The key to this … is the speed at which it’s done,” including the delivery of notices.

One “very strong deterrent,” meanwhile, is when recipients of content are informed there is a watermark and must acknowledge it to continue accessing the content, he said. “Not all watermarking is equal” as well, he said, pointing to the many different technologies that media and entertainment companies are using. A “standard identifier” of who the watermark provider is could help as well by speeding up the identification process, he said.

The Content Protection Summit was produced by MESA and CDSA, presented by MediaSilo, and sponsored by Independent Security Evaluators, Aspera, the Digital Watermarking Alliance, Menlo Security, Microsoft Azure, NAGRA, NexGuard, Convergent Risks, HGST, PwC, Thinklogical, Avid, Militus Cybersecurity Solutions, Amazon Web Services and Bob Gold & Associates.