November 26, 2020

Why combatting piracy requires a global approach

Ahead of the SportsPro OTT Summit, Pascal Metral, Nagra's vice president of legal affairs and head of anti-piracy investigations, intelligence and litigation, and Neil Gane, general manager of Avia's coalition against piracy, gave their views on some of the challenges and opportunities in the sector globally.

There’s clear evidence that the growth of illegal piracy subscription services is a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s stealing from content creators, circumvents legitimate TV operators and poses risks for consumers. How does it differ around the world?

Metral: Global content piracy is an increasing problem that defrauds content producers and erodes customer confidence in service providers. According to the recent ‘Money for Nothing’ report from Nagra and the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), pirate subscription IPTV services have grown into a billion-dollar industry in the United States alone. And this US$1 billion number does not include website piracy, credential selling or sharing, content piracy on social media or other forms of piracy.

The report also found that approximately nine million US households subscribe to illegal IPTV services alone, making them true competitors of legitimate services, such as Disney+ or Dish. With turnkey solutions for pirates that enable them to easily start, build and run their own operations around the world the scale of the challenge is clear.

Gane: In terms of revenue losses, the negative impact of illegal IPTV services would not be dissimilar in Southeast Asia as it is in North America. For example, in Indonesia alone, a January 2020 Media Partners Asia economic damage report found that online piracy deprived the Indonesian TV, online video sectors of approximately US$1 billion in revenue in 2019 and an estimated 6,000 new direct and indirect jobs that could have been created. Unfortunately, online consumers in Southeast Asia have an unhealthy appetite for viewing stolen content.

What can and should be done to combat illicit services?

Gane: There are a number of effective and proven strategies that can be put in place to disrupt and curb such egregious piracy levels. Firstly, an effective site blocking process that blocks access to streaming piracy websites and ISD application servers. Site blocking has been a key feature of the coalition against piracy’s (CAP) strategy, working alongside governments to introduce a regulatory site blocking protocol or make current blocking processes more streamlined and effective. In Indonesia, for example, we have referred over 2,400 piracy websites and application domains that have been blocked over the 12 months to August 2020, averaging 60 sites blocked every 10 days. The results of this strategy have been impressive with Indonesia fast becoming a market leader in video IP protection in South East Asia boosting the growth of local and international legitimate services.

Enforcement will always remain a key pillar of any anti-piracy strategy and we continue to work alongside our members in investigating and referring major IPTV crime groups for criminal enforcement. There is no one silver bullet to disrupting and reducing online piracy ecosystems. However, collaboration is key, and we need to continue to work alongside other content industry stakeholders as well as technology platforms, payment processors, e-market platforms and other intermediaries to disrupt the technological ecosystem and the illicit commercial transactions at the point of sale.

Are you seeing any trends in the proliferation of pirate services?

Gane: From a criminality standpoint, rather than seeing a proliferation of illicit IPTV services we are beginning to see a consolidation of bigger players dominating markets. As with many other profitable crimes, it is a matter of time before criminal syndication takes over.

Metral: As the Money for Nothing report highlights, in the US there are multiple levels of pirate subscription IPTV sellers; from retailers who sell the service direct to consumers, to wholesalers who are often the groups stealing the content and developing the offerings – creating a breeding ground for organised crime.

There is also the problem of hosting providers that make their services available to pirates, sometimes unknowingly. We see lots of hosting providers located in the Bahamas or smaller countries where regulation is perhaps not so advanced. What is surprising is the level of perceived tolerance to pirate services in industrialised nations notably in Europe, such as France, Germany or the Netherlands. Many have net neutrality laws in place which, while understandable in part, enable hosting providers to make their living out of infringing behaviours such as content piracy. As a result, a pirate service could be taken down by a hosting provider at the request of a rights holder and be back the next minute within the same hosting provider. This cat and mouse game played by intermediaries such as hosting providers is a true problem, but lobbying is taking place at the European Union to tackle it and in particular to replace the currently inefficient ‘notice and take down’ regime by a ‘notice and stay down’ regime.

What about crackdowns to stop pirates?

Gane: One of the handicaps to effective enforcement has been the lack of a physical product, and with illicit IPTV services the product has become even more transient whilst presenting no single point of attack from a law enforcement perspective. We are, however, beginning to see Southeast Asian governments increasingly agreeing that the online world needs to be managed and there needs to be rules. Regulatory site blocking regimes already in place are becoming more streamlined and time efficient. Other governments are in the process of introducing new regulatory site blocking protocols. Content theft on its’ current scale is simply unsustainable, and we are confident that more governments in Southeast Asia will put measures into place to curb this.”

Metral: 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, enables rights holders and broadcasters to protect the value of their content. Disrupting these illegal streams quickly is vital for live sports content in particular. Enhanced leak detection through anti-piracy intelligence is also key to identify larger pirate operations and optimise the impact of remediation measures against them. Alongside support from legislatures across jurisdictions, law enforcement is a vital tool to takedown commercial pirate services.

A recent collaboration between Nagra, the German Football League (DFL), Spanish soccer’s La Liga, Nordic Content Protection, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), Spanish law enforcement, Europol and Eurojust saw the effective takedown of a global piracy network based in Spain, generating profits in excess of €15 million (US$17.71 million) and causing much higher damage to the content industry. Another, in partnership with Canal+, Vaud Police in Switzerland, Europol and Eurojust to takedown a service with servers in multiple countries throughout Europe.

Do you think consumers know they’re subscribing to illegal services, putting themselves at risk and impeding rights owners’ ability to develop content?

Gane: Consumer awareness remains a key component and it is important that we continually make consumers aware how to identify an illicit IPTV service as well as the very real malware risks, they face when accessing such services. That said, the majority of consumers who regularly use piracy services already know that what they are accessing is stolen content. For example, in a recent Singapore YouGov survey when asked who was most responsible for preventing online piracy, Singaporean consumers chose ‘the individual, for choosing not to watch pirated content’.

There are a huge array of legal IPTV services, both advertising-based and subscription, that are currently available to consumers throughout Southeast Asia. Such video services provide premium entertainment content, are reliable and importantly are legal. The piracy alternatives fund crime groups, put consumers at risk of malware infection and are unreliable. Piracy websites and ISDs do not come with a ‘service guarantee’, no matter what the seller may claim. This message is beginning to resonate with consumers.

Metral: Combatting piracy isn’t just about fighting criminals head-on; there’s clear recognition that consumers need to be involved and educated in the process. For example, the Premier League recently launched its ‘Boot out Piracy’ campaign in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong to educate consumers on the harm that using illegal services can cause them.

Legitimate providers also need to consider how they can be more enticing to consumers. If someone is paying for a commercial pirate service, they may be open to pay for a legitimate one too, if the right bundling options are marketed to them effectively.