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9 December 2021
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Microsoft and blockchain technology to fight piracy

Piracy is the common name we give to copyright infringement. Any work or product over which they incur intellectual property rights need authorization to be used or sold, and this is normally granted by its creator, publisher or holding company. The practice of piracy generates damage both for creators, artists and brands, as well as for the State, which is unable to collect due taxes.

Combating this activity is, therefore, of great interest to companies, artists, content producers and many national governments. Recently, blockchain technology has shown potential for its application in this regard as well. Next, we’ll see how this issue has been addressed, and how a large company — Microsoft — plans to make use of a blockchain-based anti-piracy tool.

The practice of piracy

In the 20th century, the main forms of piracy were equivalent to the street vendors’ portfolio: imitations and forgeries of physical products from well-known brands and musical products. However, in the era of vinyl records, piracy was still not recognized: according to the current legislation, the author’s right fell only on the first sale. Anyone who bought an LP could use it or distribute it as they wished.

With the advancement of the digital industrial revolution, especially since the 21st century, we have seen an exponential multiplication of digital media. CDs and DVDs emerged, and intellectual property legislation had to be updated as early as 1998. The digital phenomenon has strongly affected the entertainment industry (music, film, art) and a newly emerging industry, software development. Digital media have simplified processes, increased profits and opened up new paths and possibilities.

‘Boom’ of piracy

Simultaneously, the internet was born. A worldwide network of computers, independent, lawless, a land to be explored. This breakthrough would quickly reveal the greatest use of the web: empowering the sharing of files and information in digital format.

The scenario brought together all the pieces for a piracy boom: anyone with a computer could easily copy digital files and share them over the internet, an area with little or no policing. A strong worldwide piracy market was soon established, as well as “rebel” forces, contrary to the privileged position of large corporations and in favor of free access to content.

Sites like PirateBay were born, and software like BitTorrent became popular. From there, we began to notice the establishment of international laws and efforts to combat piracy and a growing regulation of the internet space.

Use of Blockchain as an Anti-Piracy Tool

In a blockchain network, records are unique and objects are identified through codes that cannot be edited or duplicated. This is ensured by the way data is stored in a chain of sequential blocks — hence the name “blockchain”.

In these chains, the next block of data is always cryptographically pegged to the previous block. In addition, all computers that make up the network nodes have an identical copy of the complete block sequence, available for public access. These properties make the blockchain the most robust technology today to ensure the security and individualization of digital data.

Hence, there is a great potential for uses involving registration and tracking of objects and content when it is desired to ensure that no copies or modifications/amendments will be made. Thus, blockchains are already widely used in supply chain management systems and in the issuance of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), for example. It is to be expected that they will also apply to anti-piracy initiatives.

Argus, the blockchain anti-piracy system from Microsoft and the Alibaba Group

An anti-piracy system called Argus was developed in partnership between Microsoft, the Chinese group Alibaba and universities in the US and China. The initiative was publicized through an article published this month. The partnership brings together two giants: Microsoft, one of the biggest targets of piracy worldwide thanks to its two main products — Windows and Office — and Alibaba, which brings together extensive know-how and is one of the world leaders in blockchain patents .

The tool created consists of an incentive system for anti-piracy campaigns located on the Ethereum network. It will encourage people to denounce the distribution mechanisms and pirated copies in exchange for a reward, creating a public and transparent database.

This list of records will allow the tracking of piracy lines back to the sources, making use of the transparency provided by the blockchain. The lack of transparency was once considered the determining factor for the low effectiveness of other anti-piracy campaigns launched by other companies.

Despite the guarantee of transparency, the group refined security and encryption measures that attest to the security of the informants, whose anonymity will be ensured.

Project is economically viable

The article concludes that the project is economically viable, resulting in a low operating cost in the Ethereum network. Furthermore, the authors emphasize that the methodology they created for the development of the Argus tool is even more important than the tool itself, due to its innovation and efficiency.

Curbing piracy is not an easy task. To date, efforts to combat it have been constantly challenged by the emergence of new piracy mechanisms. Many other global companies invest in the intellectual property defense segment, and are interested in the advances that blockchain technology can bring to the sector.

This is the case of the Indian company Mahindra, which is researching the use of blockchains for contract management. If Project Argus is actually implemented and proves effective in a public blockchain like Ethereum, it could start a radical turnaround in the international “piracy war”.

About the author

Fares Alkudmani  has a degree in Business Administration from Tishreen University, in Syria, with an MBA from Edinburgh Business School, Scotland. Naturalized Brazilian. He is the founder of the company Growth.Lat e of the Growth Token project.

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