After having little or no way to effectively protect their movies from piracy, independent filmmakers finally have an affordable solution to a problem that’s been plaguing the industry for decades.

We recently launched a secure video distribution platform, developed specifically for independent filmmakers, producers and videographers. Screener Copy boasts a level of protection up until now only afforded major Hollywood studios, including the ability to continuously monitor content and detect leaks.

“We’ve been in the Hollywood anti-piracy scene since 2014,” explains Custos’ COO, Fred Lutz. “We were shocked to find that the old way of protecting films did not work on a smaller scale. With the cutting-edge technology we developed, we can provide content protection to everyone at any scale.”

Screener Copy uses the Bitcoin blockchain to expose the piracy of media files exceptionally quickly, usually within a few minutes after it’s illegally shared. The system turns the downloaders of pirated files anonymously against the uploaders by offering them an embedded Bitcoin reward, which upon retrieval confirms the leak and exposes the identity of the uploader.

“This is a completely novel way of fighting piracy,” says Fred. “The Bitcoin bounties are hidden within every video file that’s distributed, enabling filmmakers to monitor their content at all times.”

Since the closed beta launch of the platform two years ago, Screener Copy has effectively stopped pre-release piracy in South Africa, a hotspot for illegal downloading. “It has changed the way we operate,” confirms Jana Erasmus, distribution producer at Indigenous Films, a local distributor. “It has given us the ability to communicate with journalist, clients and buyers of content in a safe and secure way. No more chasing or sending physical screeners on disks or having to worry about piracy.”

Corlize Luttig, Marketing Manager: Alternative Content at Times Media Films, concurs. “The platform is really easy to use, and after numerous films sent, we haven’t suffered a single leak. A recipient knows the content is protected, and it gives all parties some peace of mind.

Beyond the ability to monitor leaks, Screener Copy also requires each recipient to create a password-protected account to access the content shared with them. “This means that nobody other than the intended recipient can access the video you send them,” explains lead developer and watermarking expert at Custos, Antony Salotto. “The ability to download content can be disabled at the uploader’s request, making videos only viewable within the platform and sharing even more difficult.”

While conventional Digital Rights Management schemes can be effective at preventing unauthorized users from accessing content, they have a limited ability to prevent the redistribution of content. However, if a user can view content, they can share it. “A solution to this is to make such a recording traceable to the pirate, so that, upon finding a pirate copy of its content, the owner can take action against the person responsible,” says Antony.

South Africa has a booming film industry, but research shows it’s also in the top 35 worst offending countries regarding piracy. “That is why we are very happy to be making a visible impact in the market,” says Fred, adding that it’s the “passion and ingenuity of the independent filmmaking community” that are driving innovation and continuous development at Custos.

“We were partly motivated to create the platform after seeing a young filmmaker’s dream tarnished,” explains Fred. The filmmaker in question had her movie leaked during the critical post-production phase. “It was heartbreaking to see her reaction when she realized the project she’s been working on for so long was going to be a financial failure. It meant she was less likely to get funding for a next project.”

This was no isolated incident. A growing number of studios are suffering regular attacks from hackers stealing unreleased content from their servers and uploading it to piracy sites. Screener Copy allows filmmakers to monitor their content and instantly know when a leak has occurred so that mitigating action can be taken.

To celebrate the launch of their anti-piracy platform, Custos is giving away ten free tickets worth $40 to all independent filmmakers, producers, distributors and videographers to explore the platform and all its features.

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