Forensic watermarking has application areas beyond OTT platforms

Piracy of premium content from Hollywood and other major studios is a major pain point for content producers and distributors. The popularity of live events and OTT platforms has increased this threat manifolds. Producers and distribution companies spend huge resources on digital rights management (DRM) technology and forensic-watermarking solutions to control and identify the source of piracy.

The main purpose of video watermarking is to identify the user who may have intentionally or inadvertently leaked a premium video asset in the piracy market, thus causing revenue losses in billions of dollars to the industry. Each watermarked video asset obtained from the piracy websites can be traced to the guilty subscriber through a watermarking-extraction process, which lets the content owner to fix legal responsibility to the user.

However, the use of watermarking technology to identify DRM protected content goes beyond identifying the OTT subscriber who leaks video files. Below are some other use cases of this technology:

  • Cinema releases: Cinema releases have been a major source of piracy due to the high resolution and most recent movies they play. In fact, this is the highest possible resolution one can think of. Even if a movie is not pirated at the level of cinema server, an unscrupulous viewer or cinema staff can pirate it using a camcorder. The resultant loss in quality is still good enough to sell in the piracy market. However, watermarked copies of such movies can be traced to the last cinema, if not the person recording it, and corrective measures can be taken.
  • Discs: Though premium content on physical media is going out of fashion with the arrival of OTT players and high-speed content delivery networks, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs continue to be leakage points. Watermarking such media cannot stop piracy, but it helps law enforcers and content owners identify the source of piracy for further action.
  • Pre-release screeners: Hollywood studio engage with film reviewers and critics before every major release by giving them access to the film. Over the years, this leakage point has been seen as the hottest point of piracy, since these reviewers can access the whole film before anyone else can. Among pirates, there is an urgency to be the first to access an illegal copy of a film. Watermarking individual copies of films shared with reviewers makes it easier for the producer to pin the blame on individual reviewers who leak the files.

Forensic watermarking, thus, becomes an important tool in identifying piracy. However, for it to effectively control piracy, the watermarking-extraction process has to be accurate as well as swift, failing which the purpose of pirates may be met before producers can take action against them.