A 2018 report by Coin Telegraph indicates that revenue losses for the television and film industries as a result of piracy could reach $52 billion by 2022, according to a study by Digital TV Research. While this figure is significant, it also doesn't take into account the lost revenue from piracy of pay TV, sports, and other types of media content as well. In actuality, the costs of piracy to these industries are likely much higher than the $52 billion figure. To be sure, media companies have taken steps to protect their content from piracy, but this has not been enough to fully cut off the process. Now, analysts have speculated that blockchain technology could potentially play a role in the control of this content and the protection against piracy going forward.
Blockchain as a Player in the Fight
A report by the U.K. copyright research body CREATe indicated that blockchain is unlikely to be able to address piracy fully on its own. Rather, blockchain technology would be best put toward this cause as one component of a larger effort to stop piracy. Part of the reason for this is that there are many potential reasons why piracy takes place, and experts have yet to arrive at a definitive explanation for the practice. Various factors like cultural norms, lack of access, unaffordability, and even a general view of media content as not having inherent value can all contribute to piracy activities.
Coin Telegraph's report indicates that experts "suggest that it could become impossible or extremely difficult to share any media content unlawfully if the entire internet were built on blockchain technology." The reason for this, presumably, is that a blockchain internet would allow for the tracking of unlawful actions via distributed ledger. Individuals would not be able to hide their piracy activities as they can now. However, a blockchain internet remains speculative.
One way that blockchain can help to prevent piracy at this stage is through content surveillance. Vevue is a blockchain streaming service developing a technology to track the life cycle of media content. Founder Thomas Olson has indicated that "if someone copies content tracked by our technology by any possible means, including videoing or recording a screen, our platform will be able to identify the owner of the device/system where the content was last played."
In this case, blockchain itself does not track the content; this is dependent upon a unique computational process inherent in Vevue's project. However, blockchain would allow the surveillance data to be stored and shared efficiently. Put another way, blockchain is a record that Vevue's team can use to assist in the tracking actions of its proprietary technology.
Blockchain can also help with the process of digital watermarking, a process akin to bounty hunting. South African company CustosTech has used the bitcoin (BTC) blockchain to build a proprietary digital watermarking technology. This technology allows the embedding of a monetary reward, like BTC tokens, in media files. These watermarks are embedded in such a way as to be imperceptible to the content receiver and impossible to remove. If a file is pirated, CustosTech can analyze the watermark for that file to determine who the legal recipient of the file was.
The fact that a monetary reward can be encoded in the process as well could serve as an incentive for those outside of the media space to help find pirated files. Indeed, CustosTech's bounty-hunting program is available to anyone. By helping to track down pirated files, hunters can earn rewards in BTC.
The idea of rewarding users with cryptocurrency for their assistance in fighting piracy translates to the project of Rawg, a cross-device game discovery platform, as well. This company is aiming to create a blockchain system that rewards video gamers with cryptocurrency tokens for achievements they earn in the game itself. Gamers are only able to synchronize their achievements for token rewards with non-pirated games and on official platforms. In this sense, Rawg is not offering a bounty-hunting reward but rather an incentive for gamers to avoid piracy on their own.
There are many other projects exploring the anti-piracy space and using blockchain technology. Are they likely to fully eradicate the practice? No, but they very well may help to reduce the amount of revenue lost as a result.