by Jamie Holmes
While many startups in Africa are utilizing blockchain technology and bitcoin to enable more efficient remittances services and philanthropic projects, one South African startup is taking the fight to piracy.
Preventing Film Leaks with Bitcoin Bounties
Custos Media Technologies wants to use the blockchain to identify the source of piracy using a bitcoin private key. The idea is simple; a small amount of bitcoin is embedded into each file sent to a licensed recipient. Part of the agreement is that the reviewer or whoever this file is sent to, as well as the bitcoin inside of it, shall remain safe from being exploited and distributed without consent. If the licensing agreement is broken and the content is distributed, the embedded bitcoin inside the file will instantly be available for anyone, anywhere in the downloading community to claim anonymously.
Once the bounty is claimed, Custos can see the transaction on the blockchain, alerting them to the source of the leak. The client can also identify the original infringer through Custos’ core IP. Content creators can then avoid a loss of revenues by only distributing to trusted agents and not to those who have proven to have leaked content in the past.
While the company cannot ascertain who the bounty hunter is, what they do find out is who originally infringed the copyright agreement, with cryptographic techniques providing a secure avenue for identification. This should mitigate the effects of leaks, as media recipients will see their integrity put on their line and may avert pirating the content if they know that they can be traced.
Custos’ Steady Growth Path
The visionary behind Custos Media Technology, G-J van Rooyen, says,
“We’ve been testing it with a small number of beta clients, but have just opened it up so that any studio in the world can apply to use it,”
The company was formed at the Stellenbosch University, of which van Rooyen is a professor, highlighting an interesting intersection of academia and enterprise, often found throughout the bitcoin ecosystem. At only one year young, Custos have managed to secure a large deal with British e-book provider Euriditon Digital, licensing Custos’ technology to the publishing industry. Publishers will be able to make use of this innovation later in the year.
While film industry could benefit from such an innovation, the firm is still exploring opportunities to license their product to incumbents. No such deals are in the works as of yet, but van Rooyen sees steady growth path ahead as beneficial,
“We are carefully onboarding new bounty hunters, at the same pace as which our media client base is growing. It is important that we scale both sides of the business in a balanced way at this early stage.”
On Custos’ role in the African content market, van Rooyen says,
“The digital content market has rapidly become much less regional. In Africa, there is a demand for American and European content, and when distribution rights don’t keep up with demands, it fuels piracy. Similarly, the African diaspora has led to a demand for locally-produced content on other continents, giving rise to services like iROKOtv, which streams African content to viewers across the globe.”
Van Rooyen’s company could be key for the South African, Nigerian and Ghanian industries, allowing coordination on pan-African copyright protection. With these markets maturing and the globalization of production and consumption of these industries, Custos’ content mechanism will serve them well, with the use of a bitcoin private key, making their offering unrestricted by geographic boundaries.
While based in Africa, the company is looking to Europe, North America and India’s Bollywood as further target regions. While the company has patents covering a range of media including video, audio, e-books, and documents, they chose the film industry as their focus as it, “is a sector that urgently needs improved ways to manage digital rights in order to sustain the industry,” van Rooyen says.
Blockchain and Luxury Goods go Hand in Hand
Custos is part of a wave of blockchain startups that are combating copyright issues, providing businesses with an effective way to address the problem of counterfeit goods. As we are now firmly into the 21st century, why have paper certificates for assets of value when we can use the blockchain to make ownership known transparently, effortlessly, and globally?
Leanne Kemp, CEO and founder of Everledger, is up for entrepreneur of the year in the UK for her vision and actions toward using the blockchain to stamp out counterfeit goods, disincentivize theft and fraud, and bring the diamond market into the 21st century.
A diamond’s provenance can be checked on their ledger to help buyers avoid being scammed, hopefully reducing the number of criminals involved in forging and selling fake diamonds. While the company is taking aim at securing and verifying diamonds, the firm is also looking at combating luxury goods counterfeiting, electronics, and eventually any asset with a serial number.
Last year, at the Barclays Demo Day Techstars Accelerator, Kemp told the audience:
“Diamonds are just the start, and our vision is so much bigger… We’re going to help in combating counterfeiting, and that’s not a fifty-billion-dollar problem — that’s 1.7 trillion.”
While the arrival of the internet opened up opportunities for copyright infringement and the distribution of counterfeit goods, blockchain technology looks to erase the gains made by criminals associated with these informal markets and address the root of the problem, instead of the symptom.