Digital Piracy is a mainstream online activity and it’s getting easier to find high-quality pirated content. This has a chilling effect on the creative industries – movies, books, music, games etc because less revenue is available to encourage growth and future production.

“Most people never think about the quiet war raging to keep copyrighted photos, videos, and songs off the Internet. According to Google Data, the number of requests to remove links to copyrighted materials has exploded from a few hundred thousand Web addresses each week in 2011 to more than 20 million a week now as at 2016 – BloombergGadfly

Since 2013, a South African company, Custos Media has been developing anti-piracy products based on bitcoins and blockchain technology. These cutting edge digital content technologies allow content owners to distribute, manage, and protect sensitive media. This gives a new level of protection to the owners of any project – whether a large book publisher, or a small indie film producer, or anything in between.

Technology Highlights

  • The tracking technology enables copies of uploaded media to have imperceptible watermarks that go with a bounty (Bitcoin private key) which can be claimed by anyone who uses a free tool. The bounty can be claimed from anywhere but once. It will appear on the blockchain within seconds of being claimed and this will alert the client – the legitimate owner of the content.

  • This enables the media owners to audit that media recipients honor their licenses, and do not distribute the content. With an effective way to track distribution, it provides a very strong disincentive to leak content in the first place. The system works out well with the traditional DRM. Combining the Bitcoin watermarks with other technology like Microsoft Silverlight can make it very difficult to rip and copy the content in the first place.

  • The community of bounty hunters is also a key component of this model. The company is carefully onboarding new bounty hunters, at the same pace as which their client base is growing. It is important to scale both sides of the business in a balanced way. Eventually, as the business model matures Custos can start letting market forces control the network of bounty hunters.

The Team at Custos Media (Photo: Custos Media)

Rapid detection of a breach in content distribution is quite valuable in itself to Custo clients e.g. A movie owner knowing soon enough that a pirate copy of a pre-release screener is already being circulated can take steps to minimize revenue losses – the system can be thought of as placing a virtual bounty on each film that is pirated and as this bounty is claimed anonymously, it reveals who is leaking all of the films.

This unique system has also found growing application in eBook publishing, turning pirates on each other with the embedded Bitcoin bounties. This attacks the economy of piracy by targeting uploaders rather than downloaders, turning downloaders into a network for early detection of a breach. Overall, the technology provides a unique solution to a very large global market, across media types and has room for improvement and wide-reaching applications.

The company is unusual in its application of bitcoin outside of financial services. Some other companies we noted in the anti-piracy tech space include:

MUSO based in London is a technology company providing content protection, market tracking and audience connection solutions that disrupt the global digital piracy market. According to their site, they power the world’s largest database of metadata on real-time behavior across the piracy market. This enables the global content industry to limit distribution of unlicensed content while measuring global demand in real time.

Onsist was founded in 2010 in the Netherlands to help businesses protect their copyrighted content against illegal copying, selling and distributing, all of which constitute theft. They help preserve the publisher’s rights as well as your customers’ rights, while also sending out a strong message to illegal downloaders that free riding won’t be tolerated.


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