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Home Startups South Africa’s Custos Media Technologies aims to curb piracy of digital media using blockchain

South Africa’s Custos Media Technologies aims to curb piracy of digital media using blockchain

by Charity Mbaka
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Piracy has been a nightmare in particular for people in the film and music industries, making it very difficult for them to make a decent living off of their trade. Custos Media is a South Africa based company that has developed and patented a unique technology that helps producers and distributors of digital media to audit “fair use” of their content, and combat digital piracy. TechMoran spoke to Custos Media about their technology, here is what they had to say.

Tell us about yourselves, your educational background, team and how you came together to form Custos Media
We got the idea for Custos in the MIH Media Lab, an industry-funded cross-disciplinary postgraduate research lab focussed on new media research at Stellenbosch University. I was a student completing my Masters in Economics at the lab, and my co-founders, Dr. G-J van Rooyen and Dr. Herman Engelbrecht with the founders and directors of the lab, both engineers.
From there we moved into the technology incubator of the university, the LaunchLab, where we started building our team with the most talented people you can imagine. The university helped us patent the technology worldwide, and we raised funding locally and internationally to build the product.

How would you describe your company; how does it work?
Custos helps filmmakers and distributors protect their content.
The big problem with all content protection technologies is that there’s no credible threat of being caught to any would-be pirates. Everyone outside of the Hollywood majors cannot afford to take a centralized approach to catching pirates, and even they struggle. If you need to catch pirates, you need to be everywhere they are. Putting piracy investigators in each and every piracy community is not just expensive, it’s impossible in some cases. Except for Custos. We potentially have informants everywhere piracy happens. Even though informants will remain anonymous, they need a reason to rat on their friends – and that’s where the Bitcoin comes in. We embed a unique Bitcoin bounty into each copy of a movie that is distributed. When someone finds a protected movie in one of their networks, they can pocket the bounty. On our side, we watch the blockchain for these transactions. Each wallet is associated with the legitimate recipient of the movie, so we know the source.
Adding this credible threat is enough to stop would-be pirates from leaking content.
For indie filmmakers, we have screenercopy.com, where they have access to a turn-key solution for secure content distribution. For larger customers, they can either choose to integrate our API directly into their workflow, or we can create a white-labeled version of Screener Copy, with their own branding and customized featured.

What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start the company?
Our technology can be applied to any media, from film and ebooks to sensitive documents and VR. We decided that the indie film market is the best market for us to start targeting as it was feeling an existential threat from piracy, and there were no other products available to help them battle it.

How has uptake been like since you launched?
Amazing! In South Africa, we are protecting just about all the indie content, and we have pools of customers as far flung as Japan, Germany, and Canada. We realized early on that we had something that is solving a very real and very pressing problem to indie filmmakers, and we are happy to be helping.

Who is your major competition? What do you do differently to distinguish yourself from them?
We hold a patent on our core technology, and we are the only people worldwide with the combined expertise in cryptocurrency, piracy economics, and watermarking to make this product possible. The rest of the market can be put into two groups – forensic watermarking and hard DRM.
Hard DRM we all know, it’s that hated technology that makes it hard for you to watch your content the way you want to. It attempts to put the content in a secure box to prevent leaks. The problem with this approach is that the content always leaks eventually, and consumers rightfully hate it.
Traditional forensic watermarking embeds an identifier into each copy of a movie that is being sent out – like we do. The difference is, that they have no follow-up. Unless you are one of the Hollywood majors with armies of people looking for the watermark, this is ineffective without our bounty system.

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced since the inception of the company?
When we started cryptocurrency technology was still young, so we had a hard time convincing investors and customers to trust it. Over time, both our reputation and that of cryptocurrency has improved significantly, making the sale a lot easier.

What advice would you wish to share with aspiring African entrepreneurs?
We as Africans see the world as it is, warts and all. If you go to the first world, the workings of the world are hidden from you with convenience and privilege. This is why the startups coming from Silicon Valley frequently looks so ridiculous to us. They are trying to build self-driving vending machines for vegan smoothies, or apps that use AI to do your laundry. Because we see the world as it is, we can change it. African entrepreneurs are inspiring, because they are not only trying to make our lives slightly more convenient – they are trying to change the world. My advice to aspiring African entrepreneurs is to build and test locally and then move globally. We have amazing talent all over the continent that can help you build your product for a fraction of what a US developer would charge. Test in your local market. But don’t stop there. Don’t be afraid. They are not better than us, you can go to the large venture markets of the world, and go toe-to-toe with the best if you solve a real problem, and you have a good team. Don’t be afraid to take that leap.

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