In the past couple of years, content owners, broadcasters and licensed service operators have become increasingly attuned to the impacts of content fraud. Gone are the days when piracy was, to a large extent, tolerated by those whose property was being infringed. Even some of the more ‘benign’ forms of piracy, such as password sharing, that operators such as streaming giant Netflix once considered a promotional vehicle for their content, is now coming under closer scrutiny. When growth slows and subscription numbers plateau or even decline, these companies have to seek ways to boost their revenue, and the fraudulent use and redistribution of their premium content represents one of the areas that they are seeking to address.
Economic conditions aside, the sheer scale of content theft is causing the content owners and providers to sit up and take notice. It has indeed reached epic proportions. The ease with which premium content in high quality can be intercepted, and the breadth and speed with which it can be redistributed illegally, is shocking, if not downright impressive. Piracy has evolved and grown dramatically as different, widely available technologies have become available, covering the whole content fraud process, from initial content capture through to distribution, payment and monetisation. It has become relatively easy to set up a cosy streaming business using both live and on-demand content stolen from the biggest brands in the industry.
The general term ‘piracy’, or content fraud, is used to cover all of the various types and scope of fraudulent activities, but not all pirates are equal or cause equal damage. For example, if someone cheekily watches a pirated football match on a Saturday afternoon now and then (casual piracy), they are, of course, committing an offence and contributing to rising demand for pirated content. But the pirate that owns and operates a pirate business (professional piracy) is likely to cause bigger and more direct damage, especially if they are not working alone. So, let’s look at three types of piracy, each of which causes rights holders, broadcasters and platform operators substantial financial and reputational damage.
As the name suggests, these are pirates (either organisations or groups of individuals) that profit from the content so many others have put their efforts into creating and making successful. These pirates are often capitalising on the consumer demand for cheaper and more accessible content, with business models that take advantage of the increasing cost of being a legitimate pay-TV subscriber, and the frustration caused by an ever-increasing array of OTT platforms and services subscriptions which are required by anyone who wishes to build up a catalogue that caters to everyone in their household. In addition, this fragmentation of legitimate content across multiple pay-TV and OTT services often means that consumers can spend frustrating lengths of time searching for the movie or game that they want to enjoy on a Friday night. All of these factors are used by pirates to sell their services, ‘saving’ that Friday night by conveniently offering all of the same content, including highly sought-after live sports, at a more affordable price and in one location.
So the reality is that when competition for subscribers is already tough, legitimate content owners and providers must also compete with illegal subscription services that pay nothing for the expensive content.
There is no single solution to put this large-scale commercial piracy to an end. Instead, content providers and distributors should implement a comprehensive end-to-end content protection plan as part of their overall business strategy, consisting of the entire arsenal of content security tools, including CAS, DRM and other in-flight security measures, as well as real-time, scalable anti-piracy solutions to give them an edge against bad actors.
Due to their popularity, reach and video-carrying capabilities, social media platforms have a massive impact on intellectual property and how (and by whom!) content is monetised. As you’d expect, big platforms like Facebook and YouTube have dedicated teams that take down content that shouldn’t be shared. These and other big platforms are also able to take down any posts put up by pirates to advertise and link to their illegal services.
However, the very nature of social media platforms, where user engagement is the primary focus, means they might not be as proactive as they could be in tracking down and removing instances of illegal distribution of content or its promotion to be watched elsewhere. Pirated content, particularly in short form, is often viewed as an acceptable advertising medium. More often, it’s largely down to content owners and any specialist content protection companies to monitor for instances of fraudulent content in close cooperation with these platforms. In fact, content owners often prefer to outsource this activity to content protection vendors, as the process differs across various social media platforms. In addition, there are a number of non-compliant platforms or services that require a specialist approach and expertise.
As the name suggests, CDN (Content Delivery Network) leeching refers to pirates using legitimate infrastructure for both stealing content and delivering it to their subscribers. Thus, not only do pirates incur zero content creation or licensing costs but they also leech from the infrastructure, so that the legitimate provider is the one covering pirate distribution costs.
CDN is a network of servers used to deliver content from an ‘origin’ server to viewers around the world, allowing for high availability of high-quality content to the end user. This makes them a target for pirate attacks that identify weaknesses in the content distributor’s Conditional Access or DRM. Once it has been successfully leeched, the content is then redistributed directly from the CDN to the website owned by the pirate for redistribution.
Although there is not a single solution that will completely erase the possibility of CDN leaks and pirates leeching from CDNs, an effective CAS or DRM solution, restricting access to content from unauthorised sources, is a must-have for a robust content protection strategy. This should be layered with post-distribution content security measures, such as forensic watermarking, to ensure that content is protected not only during distribution to the user, but at the point of – and after – it has arrived at the client device.
Whichever of these three highly damaging types of piracy your business is suffering from, the difficulty is that pirates are constantly upgrading and changing their tactics, which means that, unfortunately, there is no set-and-forget solution to stop them. If your content is worth stealing, pirates will keep trying to circumvent your security to get access to it. A comprehensive content protection strategy and a multi-pronged, multi-layered approach delivered by content protection experts are key to effectively protecting your brand and revenue.
Is your content appearing in our ongoing piracy investigations? We look into existing exploits known to pirates and detect them in real-case scenarios. Contact us to find out how.
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