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Streaming Video Alliance Releases Paper on Forensic Watermarking

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On a day when the MPAA was advocating rigorous legal actions and broad coordinated efforts to combat online video piracy, the Streaming Video Alliance (SVA) proposed a different path. The nonprofit industry group issued a technical document Tuesday called "Forensic Watermarking Implementation Considerations for Streaming Media," to outline the purpose and offer a technical guide for applying watermarks to online video. Forensic watermarks give companies a way to identify the source of pirated live or on-demand video when streamed over infringing platforms, and are designed to stay in place even when the video is saved in a new format.

Speaking at today's Microsoft Media and Entertainment Day conference in New York City, SVA executive director Jason Thibeault (and StreamingMedia.com contributor) explained how forensic watermarking isn't a cure-all by itself, but plays a role in a multi-layered piracy prevention system.

"We all know that content is being stolen," Thibeault said. One North American operator he spoke to told him that nine percent the company's streams went to illegal destinations, but the operator lacked an effective solution to fight the problem. Cease and desist letters don't have much effect on pirates outside the U.S., Thibeault noted. "If you're in Poland, you're not paying attention to a U.S. operator."

Forensic watermarking allows operators to learn the IP addresses of people conducting illegal streaming, identify which accounts originally purchased that content, and stop the streams. Thibeault recommended watermarks be used in conjunction with other anti-piracy technologies.

Adding forensic watermarks to a live stream will increase latency by around five seconds, something Thibeault admitted was an unsolved problem. Viewers get angry when their streams lag too far behind broadcast.

"The application of any security technology to live streaming content must take into account the addition of incremental latency," Thibeault said in an interview. "Viewers are already hyper-sensitive about the delay between OTT services and broadcast delivery. That's why DRM for live content hasn't been widely deployed. But there are a host of other options like CDN edge tokens, time-based access, unique identifiers in the URL, and encrypted content (via HTTPS), that can help mitigate live stream piracy without adding a significant amount of additional latency."

While the adoption of forensic watermarking won't solve the problem of piracy, Thibeault believes it moves the industry toward a comprehensive defense: "This is a complicated problem. This isn't something you sit down and solve today," he said.

An illustration of a forensic watermarking system

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