This interview is part of our new Blockchain In The Legal Industry series, where we interview the world's leading thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between blockchain and the legal industry.
In this interview we speak with Dr. G-J van Rooyen, CEO of Custos Media Technologies, to understand how his company is using blockchain and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind Custos Media Technologies? Why and how did you begin?
GJvR: Custos spun out of Stellenbosch University, from the MIH Media Lab. My co-director and one of our postgrad students had grown deeply interested in blockchain technology – back in 2013, when this was still something fairly new. We came across the idea of using Bitcoin private keys embedded inside media, as a way to encourage recipients not to “lose” sensitive files such as film screeners or confidential documents. We patented the concept, raised some funding, and spun out the company from the University.
2. Please describe your use case and how Custos Media Technologies uses blockchain:
GJvR: We use cryptocurrency private keys to embed security deposits directly inside sensitive media. For example, a movie reviewer may receive a screener copy of an upcoming feature film, which would contain a $10 security deposit that proves that the video file is still in her control. This deposit is hidden inside the video using forensic watermarking – an imperceptible way to hide information inside the color and the brightness of the pixels themselves. If she leaks the movie, Custos makes it easy for any-one inside the piracy community to claim the $10 “bounty” – completely anonymously, from anywhere in the world. The moment that happens, Custos can see the transaction on the blockchain, revealing the source of the leak. This detection works even if the content is still being shared in the dark web, and not on the public internet.
Essentially, Custos uses cryptocurrency as a simple and anonymous way to pay informants for hard-to-find information, i.e. that a particular type of media has leaked.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has your service done for them?
GJvR: Our biggest client is a film distributor in Japan, that needs to make a large catalog of feature films available to potential buyers. Buyers need to be able to screen films before purchasing them, but had a problem with some of these screeners ending up on piracy sites. By adopting Custos' technology, the client was able to identify four of their clients that stole almost a hundred films in total. By identifying the sources of the leaks, they were able to successfully put a stop to it.
4. What other blockchain use cases in the legal industry are you excited about?
GJvR: I think the most mature application is in IP licensing and royalty tracking. In industries like music where many creators may be involved in creating an original work, which may be split and recombined in many derived work, it becomes extremely difficult to track rights and licensing. Companies like Ujo Music have taken this to the blockchain, where creators' rights can be recorded on a blockchain, and royalty payments managed automatically. I believe there may be many other future uses of blockchain in general licensing, especially where licenses can be bundled, and derivative (licensable) works created through using these bundled licenses.
5. Where will Custos MediaTechnologies be in five years?
GJvR: At the moment, Custos is mostly focused on piracy prevention for the film industry, and confidential document protection for enterprises. However, the applicability of the technology is quite wide. In five years, Custos will help clients to protect a broader range of videos (training material, videoconferencing, security footage), documents, audio (music, audiobooks, call recordings), and software. Also, the notion of using cryptocurrency payments to source “hard-to-find” information (so-called “deep data”) has many applications outside of content security.