The story behind South Africa’s anti-piracy blockchain startup

South African startup Custos Media Technologies has created an innovative solution to combat piracy worldwide using blockchain technology and game theory.

The company offers a copyright protection solution which encourages pirates to anonymously snitch on their comrades in return for a Bitcoin reward.

This solution has proven effective among the company’s clients, and the user-friendly way it is packaged makes it an attractive proposition for content distributors looking to prevent incidents of leaks and piracy.

MyBroadband spoke to Custos co-founder and chief operating officer Fred Lutz about how the company was founded in South Africa and grew to offer its anti-piracy product to international clients.

Blockchain hotspot

Lutz said that the Custos team first got the idea for their technology around the coffee pot in the MIH Media Lab at Stellenbosch University in 2013.

The lab focused on new media research and had post-graduate students from various faculties,” Lutz said.

“You had engineers working on VR applications, socio-informaticists and political scientists researching social media trends, computer scientists developing next-gen game physics engines, mathematicians applying graph theory to AI, and I was doing my degree in Economics on piracy and dark economies.”

Lutz said that Bitcoin and the blockchain technology behind it were just starting to get attention, and the Media Lab was uniquely positioned to be a hotspot, given the diversity of specialisations contained therein.

“Simon de la Rouviere launched a cryptocurrency focused on musicians called Cypherpunk there. We invited Vinny Lingam over to do a talk on the future of Bitcoin.”

“Helgardt Avenant started a cryptocurrency project in the lab that has evolved to ReHive, a wallet creation platform. Simon de la Rouviere and I started a blockchain consultancy called Auconomy and consulted on some ICOs before they were called that,” he said.

Stellenbosch to success

“It was in this environment that the two directors of the Lab, G-J van Rooyen and Herman Engelbrecht – both professors in Engineering – and I speculated on combining watermarking and monetary incentivization to combat piracy,” Lutz explained.

“This was a combination of G-J’s expertise in signal processing, Herman’s specialization in distributed computing, and my background in economics.”

The trio realised that there was a big issue in the traditional approach to fighting piracy, and theorised that anti-piracy solutions should instead place a credible threat of detection on infringements.

“What our solution does is to turn every pirate into a potential bounty hunter – and to boot paying them to anonymously rat out their compatriots.”

The team immediately knew it had something special and took the idea to Innovus – the technology transfer office of the university.

“We patented the technology, incorporated Custos Media Technologies, and raised initial grant funding from the Technology and Innovation Agency to test the appetite for the technology in Hollywood, and the rest is history,” Lutz said.

Custos’ technology has seen widespread adoption both locally and abroad, and has proven greatly effective at reducing instances of piracy in the movie industry.

Custos team photo

Now read: Cryptocurrency owners targeted in Microsoft Outlook data breach

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The story behind South Africa’s anti-piracy blockchain startup