How to Stop the Periscope Piracy Problem (If It Even Exists)

Ten thousand viewers were recorded watching the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight on Periscope – should broadcasters be worried?

A couple of weeks ago two welterweight boxers entered the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and proceeded to battle it out in what was billed as “The Fight of the Century”. Thousands of fans enjoyed the match ringside but even more forked out almost $100 each for the privilege of watching at home – it’s estimated that the event brought in an impressive $400 million for HBO and Showtime in pay-per-view revenues.

Whilst Mayweather was ultimately crowned the champion, in the digital world there was another winner – Periscope. The recently launched live-streaming application from Twitter was used all over the world to broadcast the bout as it happened with some streams gathering tens of thousands of viewers and causing broadcasters to break out in a cold sweat.

As the adoption of these live-streaming apps continues to grow a worrisome problem is presented to sports content-owners: when you have thousands of fans broadcasting their own version of an event in real time, what steps can you take to protect your assets from copyright infringement? I asked Alex Terpstra, CEO of Civolution, to tell me about some of the technology available to combat this new type of piracy and John Haggis, a partner at leading media law firm Sheridans, to share his thoughts on the legal implications surrounding the issue.

#1. The Technology

The technological solution to combating piracy on live streaming platforms is apparently, fairly straightforward. Periscope, as a company, could simply deploy a fingerprinting-based solution which detects the illegal re-streaming of commercial content and performs an automated takedown. This kind of security system has already been implemented on a massive scale by YouTube, under the guise of ‘Content ID’, where videos uploaded to the platform are scanned against a database of files submitted by the content owners. If a match is found copyright owners can decide to either:

  1. Mute the audio;
  2. Block the video altogether;
  3. Monetise the clip by running ads against it;
  4. Track the video’s viewership statistics.

But how fast could it work on a real-time platform like Periscope? Some of the live-streams only last a few seconds, but if those seconds contain the knock-out punch / winning goal / final touchdown it’s easy to imagine why broadcasters would be concerned.

It’s possible to detect illegal streams as short as one minute,” says Terpstra “but the challenge will be to cope with the fact that hundreds of new illegal streams can be started continuously, creating a ‘whack a mole’ situation“.

How about the content-owners? Is there anything they can do to combat the problem directly? By deploying a subscriber-level watermarking solution in a service, which is invisible and helps identify a subscriber sharing content illegally, an operator can remotely shut down a user’s access or alternatively display a message which explains where viewers of the illegitimate stream can access the content legally.

#2. The Law

“This is the internet age equivalent issue to the old problem of people going off to the cinema and recording the latest films on pocket video cameras” says Haggis, and from his perspective it seems as if there is little that rights owners can do to combat the problem other than educate people that piracy is still stealing and have a “responsive IP protection team to close down the streams as and when they appear”.

From Periscope’s perspective the law will protect it from liability unless it fails to remove illegal content upon receiving a take-down request. If it has knowledge that an infringement is occurring on its platform but fails to take action its position then shifts to that of ‘publisher’ and it loses any defence under law.

For the average “streamer”, punishment upon being caught would most likely be the shutting down of an account, however individuals who set up their own commercial sites to stream events from TV may face more stringent action. Haggis references a case against, an illegal sports streaming site which came under fire from the Premier League two years ago resulting in the ISP’s blocking access to it all together.

But what if Periscope began to make money from illicit personal broadcasting? Would there be any obligation to split revenues with content-owners? According to Haggis, rights owners would certainly put more pressure on live streaming platforms to either sign up to revenue share agreements or continue shutting down illegal streams given that it is “ultimately their content that is being used to help monetise the site”.

Looking forward, Haggis thinks the next step content owners could take to protect their assets involves pushing Periscope to introduce better IP enforcement technologies, and beginning to include these new platforms as part of their general IP enforcement strategy.

Of course the main tactic any rights owner can use is to put in place a compelling alternative so that people use the legal service as opposed to the ‘illegal and free’ service. In many cases, depending on how rights have already been sold, this is easier said than done.

#3. The Periscope-Piracy Problem

Although the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight raises some copyright issues I think the idea that these live-streaming platforms could act as a key driver for piracy is a little overblown. Kayvon Beykpour, CEO of Periscope, recently spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt NY about the illegal streaming of Game of Thrones on the application and he seems to agree:

Generally there’s way more media attention than there is a problem. There’s probably an order of magnitude more articles about the Game of Thrones thing than actual streams of Game of Thrones.

The most important consideration for most viewers is quality. A study by Ericsson last year, for example, found 60% of consumers feel that HD is ‘very important’ when it comes to online video, with 43% regarding 4K/UHD in a similar way. Watching a grainy Mad Men finale on someone else’s screen through your tiny 7″ mobile is simply not the same experience as watching it on your own television, plus the fact that there’s no guarantee that your internet connection (and that of the streamer) will hold out for the duration of the show. And what about sites like Popcorn Time? The torrent player is quickly gaining popularity, boasting an impressive 4 million downloads since is iOS launch, and features HD quality shows and movies almost immediately after they have been broadcast. From my perspective it seems as if efforts to combat piracy should be focused on shutting down these platforms (and more broadly addressing why people are pirating, rather than how we can stop them with technology) instead of worrying about how many people have watched a bad-quality boxing match on Periscope.

Indeed, some broadcasters have acknowledged that live-streaming platforms are not a serious problem. Bob Bowman, Major League Baseball Advanced Media CEO and President, has said:

No fan goes to our game with the thought of streaming live a half an inning of a game. They’ve been capturing images of our players for a long time, and you have to allow that kind of activity. People just don’t have the interest in streaming live a baseball game. There’s just not the interest in doing it from their phone sitting in their seat.

All of this isn’t to say that Twitter can sit back and take no action – the relationships it has spent years nurturing with media companies could quickly sour if it did – but the idea that Periscope could in some way trample traditional broadcast? I don’t buy it.

What do you think? Add your comments below or tweet me @consultVodkr


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