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Watermarking: A Content Owner's Mark to Prevent Piracy

Akamai Adds Edge Based Watermarking Support, Pre Integrated with leading 3rd  Party Providers ...

State of Online Piracy within Media and Entertainment

Revenue losses and lost monetization opportunities by virtue of content theft and piracy continue to plague the media and entertainment industry today. Widespread availability of online video content, coupled with factors like ubiquitous high-speed data connectivity, hyper-connected devices and living room experiences becoming more popular - all are playing their part in the explosion of video content consumption online, making it lucrative for pirates to steal a portion of the pie.

To put things into perspective, the cost of online streaming piracy will hit $52 billion by the year 2022, according to a report by Digital TV Research[1]. Nearly 190 billion visits were made to illegal piracy websites in 2018, 17.4 Billion of which came from the US, Russian Federation (14.5 Billion), Brazil (10.3 Billion), India (9.6 Billion) and 5.75 Billion from the UK. In terms of the type of content pirated, almost 50% of visits to the pirated websites were for television shows, and nearly 20% of visitors were looking for the latest released movie[2].

Security in the media & entertainment industry means securing the entire content consumption path. Any media company that wants to serve or distribute its content to end users, needs to protect itself from attacks that can originate at multiple points across the content delivery path. Content providers are increasingly exposed to post-decryption and pre-distribution thefts due to the ever-evolving technology landscape and processes being used by Pirates to hack into the content, steal and distribute it.

According to a survey by DigitalTV Europe and Civolution, 45.7% of the respondents considered post-decryption theft to be the major weak link in the content distribution value chain[3]. For instance, mobile devices being used by pirates to record and distribute movies being screened in theatres or on TVs, newer technologies to steal the content over the Internet, all contribute towards lost monetization opportunities for content providers.

Preventing Content Piracy using Watermarking

For use cases like these, using Watermarking upstream in the value chain along with a robust content security portfolio will help prevent piracy of the content. In order to prevent content from being pirated, marking the content to determine the source of the content leak becomes important. By dynamically adding unique, imperceptible watermarking within the video that identifies the source or intended recipient of the content, each genuine copy of the content can be differentiated from pirated content to trace leaks back to the source and take anti-piracy actions.

Watermarking is used for varied use cases within the Media and Entertainment industry. A few of them being[4]:

  • Protecting Copyright Information: The digital watermark provides a unique identity to the content irrespective of the distribution processes. This helps in identification of the content and protecting the copyright information without affecting the quality of service.
  • Monitoring Premium Content: Premium content, specifically live sports, events, originals and news are the prime targets for piracy. Digital watermarks embedded within such content before transmission that can be extracted by a monitoring service can ensure that the content will be available only to legitimate subscribers.
  • Prevent Unauthorized Content Copying: A copy-prohibitive digital watermark inserted in the content asset can stop unauthorized devices like recording devices from copying the content as the watermark detector will refuse access to copying of content.
  • Prevent Content Tampering: In cases where the content is recorded by mobile cameras or surveillance cameras and distributed illegally watermarking can help by detecting modifications made to the content itself to ensure content authenticity.

What is AB Watermarking?

A digital watermark is digital marker covertly embedded within a digital asset like an audio, video or image data to identify the associated ownership of the copyright obligations[5]. AB Watermarking is accomplished by embedding a mark into either the audio or visual domain of an asset. A Session based watermarking capability can be developed by creating an A and B version of the asset. The assets are segmented into chunks as done for Adaptive Bitrate Delivery and the playouts can have a unique pattern of As and Bs. The reveal process identifies the unique sequence of A/Bs to be extracted and the session identifier is determined.

In a well-designed system, the Watermarking data is difficult to tamper with or remove even if the stakeholder tries to convert the asset to analog or re-digitize, resize, recompress, or crop the asset.

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Akamai's Watermarking Solution

Akamai's edge-based Watermarking support is a 2-Step watermarking solution that provides an edge function to do AB switching on the edge that is robust, secure, scalable and works with leading Watermarking solutions. We are currently pre-integrated with Nagra, Verimatrix, Irdeto and ContentArmor, four of the leading providers of watermarking services with more partners to follow. Akamai's Watermarking function is easy to integrate with; the integration spec can be requested for integrating with DIY or other 3rd party Watermarking implementations.

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Akamai Watermarking Workflow

Content Packager

  • Converts source content asset into A/B variants
  • Stores A/B variants on origin server within an "A" or "B" directory
  • Stores the original manifest without an "A" or "B" in the path

Token Generator

  • Issues watermarking tokens
  • Stores a mapping between subscribers and tokens
  • Responsible for generating the unique pattern and securing it within the token

Client Application

  • Requests a token from the Watermarking Service before playback
  • Supplies the token to the CDN via the Authorization header for all content requests (a query parameter is also supported for clients that are not able to set the Authorization header)

Akamai Edge

  • Denies all requests without a token
  • Verifies the signature of the token
  • Denies all requests with an invalid token
  • Unpacks tokens and maps requests to A/B versions of source material based on the watermarking pattern (WMID) within the token
  • Calculates the index into the WMID based on media sequence number and length of WMID

Akamai's Watermarking solution is a scalable and robust watermarking solution that will help OTT players, content providers and media organizations protect their premium content such as live events, sports and other original content titles from piracy. The solution is an easy to implement capability with an out of the box, pre-integrated solution, with leading Watermarking vendors. The watermarking solution will work for all 3 use cases live, linear or simulcast and VoD streaming supporting industry leading formats including HLS and DASH and will be compatible with Akamai's flagship Media delivery solution, Adaptive Media Delivery.

The watermarking solution is a new addition to Akamai's content security portfolio, a robust content protection solution to prevent content piracy, unauthorized access & maximize monetization opportunities for media organizations.

So, mark your content and prevent it from getting pirated ...


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