Preventing Content Theft With DRM And Digital Watermarking

Radiant Media Player Blog

Last updated on January 13, 2022 - Back to blog home page

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What is screen capture and how this could hurt your business?

Screen capture, or screen recording, is an illegal record of video or audio content from a website or application. If you are a content provider or a platform that has agreements with content providers content theft through screen recording can negatively impact your business and hurt your reputation. A screen recording of illegally acquired content can then be redistributed by hackers on 3rd-party illegal platforms, therefore causing significant loss in revenue.

You probably have heard that 10 years ago piracy of video content through torrent sites was a significant issue. With the release of streaming platforms like Netflix you were also told that online piracy had become less of an issue because cheap subscriptions and a better viewing experience made piracy a less attractive option. What you have not been told yet is that with the fragmentation of online video platforms (each content provider now has its own platform and are actively removing content from competing platforms) and the subscription fatigue online piracy has entered a new blooming age. Some research indicates that up to 24% of global internet bandwidth is still used for online piracy and that global film piracy may have increased by up to 33% during COVID-19 lockdown.

Two of the most popular ways that pirates are using to illegally acquire content are:

  • Using specific software to capture content directly from a screen
  • Filming a screen by pointing a device equipped with a camera at it (smartphone, cam-corder)

It just has to work once on one platform and your content can be compromised.

This issue is all across the board in the streaming media industry and big names like Disney or Netflix are also struggling to effectively prevent theft of content especially through screen recording or filming.

Hopefully solutions exist to combat piracy of online video content.

Use hardware DRM to combat screen capture

All 3 major DRM vendors Apple FairPlay, Microsoft PlayReady and Google Widevine provide an enhanced level of DRM generally referred to as hardware DRM. The level of security provided by the DRM is called robustness. For Google Widevine, the highest level of security is L1. For Microsoft PlayReady this is level 3000. Apple FairPlay only offers hardware DRM in two flavours: baseline for HD content and main for UHD HDR content.

Most devices and browsers those days can support hardware DRM, including:

  • Chrome for Android
  • Safari for macOS, iOS or iPadOS
  • WebViews for Android and iOS
  • Smart TV
  • Video game consoles

There is one notable exception that still exists as of January 2022: Chrome for Desktop only offers L3 Google Widevine security level (software DRM) - this is the same for Firefox for Desktop.

With hardware DRM it is virtually impossible to use 3rd-party software to hack into a screen and record its content (you can still film it but we will talk about this in the next section). With software DRM however some widely available software can still capture screen content: Apple's Quicktime Player or Window's Xbox Game Bar for example. Other methods can also be used by hackers to decipher L3 Google Widevine security level like extracting decryption key through a Google Chrome Extension upon content startup.

To further counter screen capture, the following solutions can be considered:

  • Limit the quality of streaming where only software DRM is available like only offer SD (standard definition up to 1024x576) renditions - in case of content leak the quality of the leak will be limited and therefore less appealing for illegal viewers
  • Do not serve content where hardware DRM is not available (a.k.a. platform restriction) - you can check our environment checker page for a quick answer (view page source for code)
  • Offer your content on Desktop Chrome on the condition that a Chrome extension be installed - in case of screen recording the extension can stop playback
  • Offer your content on a Desktop application build with Electron (using setContentProtection method you can prevent screen recording) instead of Desktop Chrome

Most of the above solutions can rapidly become frustrating for legal viewers because they may not be able to access content in a straight forward manner or on their preferred platform. Big platforms like Netflix and Disney+ have opted to limit the streaming quality they offer where only software DRM is available.

Use watermarking to combat screen filming

When screen recording is made impossible or undesirable, hackers may still try to steal your content. They can use screen filming to do so. Essentially they are going to film a screen (like a UHD TV) and illegally record with a camera-enabled device (like a smartphone) encrypted content.

Watermarking allows content providers and platforms to add specific identifiers in a video stream. It could be a unique ID that identifies the content, the current date, the viewer email or the IP address used to access content. This can allow you to track the origin of the leak and take legal actions against those who have created the screen filming.

For watermarking to be effective the digital watermark must be invisible to the viewer and consistent across platforms to properly enable tracking of the illegal filming. It should also not be possible to remove the watermark through film editing or transcoding.

What is Radiant Media Player role in combatting content theft?

Our role as a player is to support multi-DRM content decryption. Proper implementation of hardware DRM can effectively prevent screen recording from 3rd-party software.

The strategies presented in this article, like digital watermarking and quality/platform restriction come in complement to the player support for multi-DRM.

Radiant Media Player has partnered with trusted DRM service providers to allow our customers to build a complete solution to effectively combat screen recording and filming. These DRM services can offer multi-DRM encryption and watermarking services to make sure your platform can be fully trusted by legal viewers and rights holders alike.

Except as otherwise noted, the content of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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