Written by: Soumya Sekhar
Piracy has been an ever-growing challenge for the gargantuan volume of data floating in the world wide web. Data centers around the globe have been under continuous surveillance ever since hackers have begun displaying their mettle. Data security has been at the #1 spot on the priority list of any IT team. Data has not only become vulnerable at the server’s end but also during transmission as well as at the client’s end. And this has become true for most industries, and the online entertainment industry holds a soft spot on the radar of attack. Reminding you of the recent incident when the 4th episode of Game of Thrones’ Season 7 was leaked online, a big name was accused to have been the culprit. Such incidents are a result of numerous malafide motives to not just ruin the integrity of a premium content but also cause financial loss.
Despite industry efforts to deter piracy, content theft continues to prevail and results in billions of dollars of revenue loss each year. Until now, content owners have distributed their titles in this hostile environment primarily under the protection of software-based security solutions. But as the quality of OTT content improves, its value has increased and producers are now imposing stronger security requirements as a condition in the content licensing agreements. This brought the industry to implement a convoluted but quite effective approach in the form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.
What is DRM?
There is no precise definition of DRM; it is essentially what the content owners require it to be. You define the level of protection that your content mandates. Most content owners require encryption, which restricts the copy from being played without a decryption key. However, encryption alone isn’t sufficient for premium content protection, because decryption keys can be captured. A DRM provides a separate licensing server, secure player, and legitimate digital rights to manage and therefore, do a much better job than plain encryptions.
True DRMs involve a third-party licensing server to issue the decryption keys, a secure environment to protect the keys and finish off with distinct content rights expressed in the license key file. True DRMs can also provide additional protection by rotating keys, synchronizing with a local system clock, and providing support for third-party output protection schemas.
Studio licensing requirements mandate that premium content is protected from theft at every node in the consumption lifecycle. There are several organizations and standardization bodies such as GlobalPlatform and SCSA (Secure Content Storage Association) have issued regulatory guidelines to help technology and device fulfill these new security requirements. Studios are also doing their bit by collaborating together to work towards content protection for the common interest of all stakeholders. MovieLabs is one such joint-venture started by Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal and Warner Bros. studios to carry out advanced research and development in the field of distribution and protection of motion pictures.
With DRM, a variety of digital copy-projection designs can be dealt with to regulate how video and audio content are accessed and distributed. The purpose of DRM is to safeguard the creators’ and studios’ rights. Encoding these copies with DRM will put a full stop to a user’s access to it and bar illegitimate replication and distribution of the same.
DRM files are those content copies that have been precisely encoded and made available to recognized devices and authorized users. However, DRM can get tricky at times if not moderated the right way. You may probably find trouble locating a title in the menu on a media server folder if it is in DRM file format. If you locate it but can’t play it, it is most likely that your media player isn’t recognized or is incompatible with the DRM that has been implemented.
DRM is not just restricted to digital media files, it also extends to DVDs and Blu-Ray files. DRM copy protection formats are used in collaboration with commercial Blu-rays and DVD discs to check wrongful distribution. However, there is another copy-protection format in place called Content Protection for Recordable Media (CPRM) which allows customers to copy-protect home-recorded discs.
Getting DRM right!
Getting the right DRM in place for your streaming service is less about the vendor you choose and more about the protocol that you want to implement. An interesting way by which studios can stop piracy is by granting consumers the access right to a digital copy via download option or cloud sharing option. This way the average consumer can view the content on several devices other than the authorized ones, thereby discouraging the motive to replicate and make personal copies.
Some of the leading players in the content protection business are Microsoft PlayReady, Google Widevine, Apple FairPlay, Adobe PrimeTime, Verimatrix ViewRight, Marlin, etc. Each of these solutions has different capabilities and compatibilities. In case of HTML-based browser streaming, PlayReady would work only on IE and Microsoft Edge, while FairPlay would not work on any browser other than Safari. While PrimeTime would work on Firefox, Widevine would work on Chrome and Opera. In case of mobile streaming, Widevine would only work in an Android environment while FairPlay is restricted to iOS alone.
For streaming on TV sets via set-top boxes and casting devices, Fairplay shall work no place other than Apple TV, whereas PlayReady would work on several places such as Chromecast, Google TV, Android TV, Roku TV, Amazon Fire TV but not on Apple TV. Samsung and other smart TV manufacturers have set distinct standards for protected streaming, as they recognize only PlayReady and Widevine.
Implementing multiple DRMs
Clearly, there is inconsistency across different players in the DRM space. There are far too many disconnects in the way DRM solutions are mapped to streaming devices in various environments, which makes it difficult for a source title to be securely delivered to each and every client. But there is a workaround.
One can still create a consistent medium of secure content delivery by carefully integrating multiple DRM solutions on a DRM management service. The service console can be used to determine a different DRM on every occasion by applying sophisticated logic gates to switch between DRM protocols depending on the client who called for a particular title.
It’s evident how Apple has isolated its DRM support to in-house environments only. However, it’s interesting to note that since 2009, Apple has been providing all of its music content without any copy protection. Copies purchased prior to that are not playable on all platforms but are now available on users’ iTunes accounts. When downloaded again, what a user would obtain are completely DRM-free copies.
On the other hand, video content purchased from iTunes are still protected using Apple’s FairPlay DRM. The videos and movies can be played only on authorized Apple devices but can’t be shared.
As mentioned earlier, it’s more about the kind of protocol you want to implement as the content owner. You can configure true DRMs to protect every digital copy on your library, but you will still have full access and admin rights to the original copy and can decide the way you want your content to be accessed and shared.
You can implement DRM configuration specific to your environment; such options are nested inside the DRM block which makes it possible to configure multiple rules using the same DRM within a particular source. Service providers must have a more robust and adaptive DRM system that can limit vulnerability to not more than one platform. With such specification, you can configure a secure DRM execution and delivery environment.
Most content protection technologies are based on software. But a better way is to combine a well-coded DRM scheme support with effective software hardening technologies. This has the potential to deliver a level of security so that studios find streaming business owners a much safer pair of hands to trust with distribution rights for their premium content. Due to the increasing security requirements, DRMs are going hybrid – a solution that uses both hardware and software components to secure content delivery.
A hybrid DRM combines the robustness of hardware with the flexibility of software. In a hybrid solution, the most critical security operations such as the original digital copy can be moved to the secure hardware while the distribution environment still stays unaffected and intact. Such a system also fosters the application of forensic watermarking so that digital footprints can be traced and evidence can be collected to address and investigate any breach that may occur.
Ideally, we wish no streaming business would ever have to put forensic watermarking to practical application. Therefore, it’s critical to implement the most suitable DRM solution to help protect content and successfully evade piracy and infringement, ensure uninterrupted content delivery, and secure a smooth revenue stream for your streaming business.