November 24, 2020

Offence is the Best Defence Against Pirates

A successful anti-piracy strategy doesn’t rely solely on one tool. It is part of a holistic and bespoke solution that incorporates offensive and defensive tactics to address challenges from a multitude of threats.

By Pascal Métral, VP Legal Affairs at NAGRA

As the pandemic halted live sports, pay-TV operators had to adapt in several ways to reduce revenue losses as subscribers of premium live sports packages chose to cancel or pause subscriptions. Many employed archived content and ‘re-runs’ of past sporting events as their strategy to maintain momentum, whilst the promise of packed fixture lists once sports resumed gave fans something to look forward to, as has been the case with the English Premier League (EPL).

Live sports are now slowly beginning to return to our screens, representing a gradual return to normality for pay-TV operators seeking to rebuild revenue and recover from the significant losses the pandemic has caused. To create a semblance of normality, some are taking innovative steps to synthesise traditional atmospheres, as the EPL has done by streaming fake fan noise alongside its broadcast despite the mandated empty stadiums, indicating the role technology can play in rebuilding engagement and bringing viewers back. Others are adapting their pricing structures as they seek to entice viewers back without asking them to invest at the same levels as before.

However, operators and rights holders aren’t the only ones restarting activity as sports recover – commercial pirates are also looking to take advantage of a busy fixture list, and are ramping up activity as a sudden supply of live sports meets an unprecedented demand from fans, eager to catch up on months of missed entertainment.

Operators and content owners need to act fast to protect themselves. Implementing technologies, such as forensic watermarking to quickly identify illegal streams and the source of the leak as part of a series of advanced security measures, enable operators and content owners to protect the value of their content. Disrupting these illegal streams quickly is vital for live sports content. However, technology should be one part of an operator’s protection strategy. To follow the often used sports mantra – “sometimes the best defence is a good offence.”

Pirates are advancing their technologies at the same rate as legitimate service providers and will often shift their service to another server and be back online within minutes if service providers disrupt them unilaterally. It’s critical for operators to get out ahead of them. IP blocking, website blocking and DNS redirection have a role to play, particularly for sports rights holders. For the industry’s anti-piracy activities to be truly successful, it needs the support of legislative bodies across multiple countries and regions to develop legal frameworks that enable governments or courts to issue blocking orders against piracy live sports sites and video-on-demand websites; to shut down illegal services wholesale; and to take legal action against the criminals operating such sites. By collaborating with governments around the world, it removes pirates’ abilities to host in different jurisdictions and carry on stealing services.

In Southeast Asia we are beginning to see governments recognise the efficacy of site blocking and working with industry to block websites and illicit applications. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the streamlined regulatory processes have been particularly effective with noticeable changes in consumer viewing habits, migrating from piracy sites to reliable and safe legal services. According to a June 2020 Indonesia YouGov survey, 50% of consumers who noticed that a piracy service had been blocked by the authorities stated that they no longer accessed piracy services, with 34% stating that they now rarely accessed piracy services. Thailand has recently enhanced their site blocking provisions, in Vietnam site blocking is at a nascent stage, and the Philippines’ government is currently working with industry to put in place a regulatory site blocking protocol. It is hoped that other countries in Southeast Asia will also take note and follow suit.

Additionally, in partnership with local law enforcement, takedowns of large commercial pirate enterprises can be very effective, helping to stop them before they can stream live sports and totally devalue it. Recent collaboration between NAGRA, the German Football League (DFL), the Spanish Football League (La Liga), Nordic Content Protection, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), Spanish law enforcement, Europol and Eurojust, saw the effective takedown of a piracy network based in Spain (but operated worldwide), generating profits in excess of €15m and causing much higher damage to the content industry.

This particular pirate network offered more than 40,000 video channels and video-on-demand content, including a wide range of sports events, with more than 50 pirate servers located in various countries in Europe and elsewhere. More work with greater collaboration between operators, content owners, rights holders and governments is urgently needed. Thankfully, intra-industry collaboration and with governments, law enforcement and content owners has set a precedent of how such efforts can have a tangible impact on stopping the spread of commercial piracy and holding those responsible to account.

But a successful anti-piracy strategy doesn’t rely solely on one tool. It is part of a holistic and bespoke solution that incorporates offensive and defensive tactics to address challenges from a multitude of threats. Whether it consists of taking steps to educate consumers on the impact of piracy, lobbying government for legislation, working directly with law enforcement or employing technologies through the service, the best anti-piracy strategy both protects and fights back.