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July 7, 2018 • characteristics

    Herman Lintvelt, Chief Technology Officer of Custos, a South African start-up that embeds invisible Bitcoin keys in the digital files.

Herman Lintvelt, Chief Technology Officer of Custos, a South African start-up that embeds invisible Bitcoin keys in the digital files.

The modern pirate has a new destination. By stealing original digital content such as books and movies, they rob hard-working creatives of their intellectual property and income.

To address this issue, Masterminds at Stellenbosch University have developed a solution to redefine the bounty hunter as we know it by luring pirates with Bitcoin to find out the source of the smuggling material.

IT News Africa has the opportunity to chat with Herman Lintvelt, Chief Technology Officer of Custos, a South African startup that embeds invisible Bitcoin keys in the digital files.

What brought the idea to enter the industry and how was the industry when you started?

Before custos, there were two approaches to combating piracy. The first was the widely hated hard DRM that seeks to prevent people from copying the media by restricting their access. Unfortunately, this technology has always been able to worsen the viewing experience for the user. A motivated pirate will always be able to crack the restrictions. The other approach was a forensic watermarking.

Although forensic watermarking is an integral part of our technology, without our blockchain tracking technology, you need a team of people looking online for your content to be effective. Even then, you can not get into the dark web from which pirated copies are spread as we can. None of these solutions could successfully stop piracy. Between 20 and 60% of the films were leaked prior to release, posing an existential problem for smaller producers who did not even have access to the established solutions. That's why we decided to first address the film market, even though we have expanded into e-books, sensitive documents and music.

When we developed the technology, it was still the early days of blockchain technology. Ethereum was not launched yet, our options were limited to a few Bitcoin or Litecoin copies. We chose Bitcoin because the support infrastructure was available at that time.

Over the years, we have seen the industry booming and attitudes are changing. When we started, we often had to defend our choice by using "internet drug money" as it became famous through the Silk Road. Last year there was a massive boom in ICOs and we received several requests to invest in the launch of Custos Coin (which is not on the roadmap right now), and after all the hype and the hundreds of scams, we now see bigger industrial players Show interest in Custos as a company that has a real, profitable application for blockchain technology with VC and institutional support.

From the beginning, Custos was supported by AWS Cloud. The low-latency AWS platform allows Custos to scale easily to handle the fluctuations in demand for its services. When customers create new media files, such as For example, movies and eBooks can be uploaded at unpredictable times, so Custos Media systems in multiple regions need to be scaled at different times, from virtually no activity to high utilization, so they can handle hundreds and thousands of files for the watermark.

What has triggered the initiative to combat the global online privacy problem?

If a movie is leaked prior to release, it will result in a 19.1% reduction in lifetime earnings. This is a massive problem for the big Hollywood studios, but an existential crisis for indie producers and distributors around the world. Custos has protected thousands of indie titles without a single leak. We give filmmakers and distributors the ability to send their films to reviewers and potential buyers without the risk of expiring. In markets where 20-60% of the films have expired, this makes a big difference. Custos uses AWS CloudWatch to capture and track metrics, collect and monitor log files, set alerts, and automatically respond to suspicious changes. We used this to get a system-wide view of resource utilization, application performance, and operational efficiency.

How do you plan to keep the creative industries sustainable in the age of digital distribution?

Screener Copy uses state-of-the-art blockchain and forensic watermarking technology to help filmmakers and distributors distribute and secure their content. Whether you want to send just a few screeners to reviewers or sell thousands of copies every day, Screener Copy is the seamless video distribution software the creative industry has been waiting for.

Can you unpack the process of surveillance technology that alerts media owners to know when their content has leaked?

Suppose you are a filmmaker and have just edited your final movie copy. You want to push the hype so you can see it in front of some reviewers. You go to, upload your movie and enter the email addresses of some reviewers you know. On the back, the platform generates unique copies for each reviewer. In each copy we use state-of-the-art forensic watermarks and embed a Bitcoin wallet. A Bitcoin Wallet is just a special set of numbers. This number is not visible to a viewer, but encoded in small variations in color and brightness that a human eye can not see, but remain in the copy even when you copy or compress it. Every bitcoin wallet has a bit of bitcoin. Anyone in the world who finds a copy in the wild can take this bitcoin as a reward, and the blockchain informs us whose copy was found somewhere where it should not have been.

With security in our center, we really benefit from the AWS network architecture. An advantage of the AWS cloud is that it is scalable and innovative while providing a secure environment. We only pay for the services we use. This means you get the required computer resources and security, but without the up-front costs and at a lower cost than in a local environment.

How do blockchains change the way we buy, sell and track assets?

The killer app for blockchain technology is digital scarcity. This can be in the form of a currency such as bitcoin or a token associated with a physical, digital or social asset. The digitization of these assets will significantly reduce transaction costs and, as such, democratize the market.

Highly transferable assets can enable radical market economies that could change the way we as a society fundamentally think about real estate. The most fundamental changes will not be in the way we buy and sell, but in the way we do it. Crypto-Economics enables creative coordination in a way we've never seen before. There are early attempts to replace the business as we know it with crypto-coordinated voluntary collectives.

Are you looking at other projects this year?

We are pleased to expand our film offering into educational and training applications. We also plan to go into ebook, sensitive document and music protection

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