By Steve Hawley, Piracy Monitor
A year ago, an industry executive confided that “Piracy is the world’s largest video service, where the content is free, you can watch any match, and there’s no restriction on access!” This assessment is equally true today. In some regions of the world, stolen content represents as much as half of all video content consumed.
Piracy has had a direct and indisputable impact on content producers, broadcasters and their distributors alike. Beyond the theft of content and services, other avenues for piracy have been increasingly recognized on the media and entertainment industry radar, including the hijacking of delivery infrastructure, apps and devices; not to mention theft of the consumer through phishing, malware and by the distribution of ads by trusted brands to fraudulent consumer end-points.
Different approaches in 2021
Interestingly, approaches toward fighting piracy have differed, in different parts of the world. In Asia, successes have come through government regulation. The Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA)’s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) acts on behalf of pay TV operators and industry members that support them. While governments work slowly, patience wins the race. With help from AVIA, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia enacted rolling site-blocking legislation. Singapore and the Philippines have both made changes to copyright law. AVIA is also acting as an advisor to government officials in Vietnam and India as those countries formulate new regulations.
In the US, piracy battles are won through legal channels. The International Broadcaster Coalition Against Piracy (IBCAP) represents the interests of broadcasters from outside of the United States and their US distributors, to help its members enforce copyright by identifying and tracking suspected pirate sources. This helps IBCAP build evidence in support of legal investigations and law suits. During 2021, IBCAP helped DISH Network and others win in a number of multi-million dollar cases against pirates that were distributing programming without license.
Another example is the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which does similar work on behalf of members of the Motion Picture Association – studios that produce movies for theatrical and online distribution – in pursuing and shutting down pirates not only in the US, but also, worldwide.
A June 2021 article in Fierce Video spoke about IBCAP, AVIA, ACE and other industry associations in detail.
In Europe, law enforcement agencies take a key position. One reason is that much of the content consumed in individual European countries is produced outside of the given country, so law enforcement agencies such as Interpol and Europol assist in multi-national coordination.
One European example was Mobdro, a pirate operation that had 43 million users worldwide. The shut-down took place after a criminal investigation and referral led by ACE and the English Premier League (EPL) football organization. Europol coordinated operations with law enforcement agencies in Spain, Portugal, Andorra and the Czech Republic, and in addition to searches in four locations, four individuals were taken into custody. Eurojust coordinated the ‘action day.’ More than 20 Web domains and servers were blocked. Europol’s IPC3 (Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition) supported the investigation phase.
Efforts such as these are complemented by copyright authorities and regulators in the European Union, who are working toward a harmonized approach against piracy that works consistently across borders.
Poised for the mainstream
Back in the ‘90s, Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm proposed a market adoption lifecycle for technology solutions. In their early days, a technology is recognized by innovators and opinion leaders, but justification is lacking to convince stakeholders to invest in them. Moore proposed a ‘chasm’ that can be crossed only when there’s sufficient evidence that the technology makes a difference.
I believe that the broad technology category called “Anti-piracy” is just about there.
Evidence of success
Site blocking in Indonesia and Malaysia, since 2019, has reduced piracy by 76% and 60% respectively. Research published in December by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) reported that overall access to pirated content was down by half between January 2017 and December 2020, across the EU’s 27 member states, including the UK. Film and TV piracy were down 68% and 41% respectively. Streaming accounted for about 80% of access during the study period. Music piracy was reportedly down by more than 80%.
Not to mention the successes supported by IBCAP, ACE and others; detailed above.
So what about technology?
Such concerted efforts against piracy begin by recognizing the problem. Not in terms of research and statistical estimates. Between the kinds of cases listed above and the hordes of available market research from market researchers, government agencies, the advertising community, technology suppliers and others, there’s little question of the problem.
Instead, video providers should get a handle on the magnitude of their own piracy problem by putting detection in place, for two reasons. First, to put countermeasures in place, in the form of enabling technologies, technical best-practices and business rules that can be enforced using automation. And second, to build evidence and harness the resources available from copyright authorities, law enforcement and the judicial system to do something about piracy long term – perhaps even to recover lost revenue by court settlement.
By back-of-the-napkin calculation, if ten percent of a video provider’s content is viewed through fraudulent or infringing consumer end points, and your revenue is $100 million per year, you’re losing $10 million to it.
Ten million dollars may not be more than the anti-piracy investment, all in, which would include the associated technical, business and legal support. But there are additional costs. One is the cost associated with loss of subscribers as a result of attacks against your subscribers through fraudulent apps that “look” like yours – and the marketing cost of replacing them. Another is the cost of consumer loyalty when a sports league refuses to renew your distribution license because piracy keeps you from being able to guarantee exclusive distribution.
The year to come
It’s encouraging to see the drops in piracy, including the above. But that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. Piracy is an ecosystem. It includes the theft of services through credential fraud, theft of content by exploiting gaps in protection or carelessly implemented APIs, the cost of having to over-provision your distribution to compensate for use by pirates to distribute stolen content through your network, the theft of software (and therefore, theft of device control). Theft of the consumer should also be an enormous concern.
Anti-piracy is also an ecosystem. In the year ahead, we can expect further refinements in technology, more partnerships between suppliers of ingredient technologies that make up broader integrated solutions, and more outreach between non-technical stake-holders. One example is the US Copyright Office, which launched a public comment period in December to gather input about piracy and anti-piracy technology – which ends in February.
Lastly, while the details are important – and the piracy world has a myriad of details and concerns – if there’s any advice to be had, it’s to remain mindful of the big picture and not be lost in the weeds.