This watermarking tool detects piracy, IP theft, and deepfakes from a single photo

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A new watermarking tool detects pirated content from a single smartphone photo or screenshot.

The system was developed by castLabs, a video software provider based in Berlin. The company says the tech can protect videos, images, documents, and designs from piracy and intellectual property theft. It can also spot media that’s been manipulated for disinformation.

To safeguard the content, an algorithm first embeds a hidden watermark within a digital asset. Detailed user data, including IDs, IP addresses, and session information, can be stored in the watermark. 

When a user takes a picture of the content, a cloud-based extractor scans the image to identify the watermarked data. CastLabs told TNW that the results arrive in seconds — even if there’s image distortion or obstruction. The system can also withstand multiple distortions and attacks, including camcording, screenshots, and screencasting.

Once the watermark is retrieved, content owners can identify unauthorized users and sources of leaks in the supply chain. They can then pursue immediate remedial actions — such as stream takedowns — or use the data as evidence in legal actions. 

“We’re empowering them to safeguard their intellectual property, protect their monetisation models, and enforce their rights in the digital landscape,” said Michael Stattman, co-founder of castLab.

That landscape is constantly evolving. The combination of a cost of living crisis, a proliferation of streaming services, and crackdowns on password sharing have sparked a surge in online piracy.

Consumers are also increasingly supportive of the practice.  A recent survey found that 23% of US internet households view piracy as acceptable — up from 14% in 2019.

Content owners, however, are getting hit hard in the pocket. According to the Global Innovation Policy Center, overall content piracy costs as much as $71bn (€65.3bn) annually in lost revenues.

Those losses have created a big opening for castLabs, which says its tech is unique in the market. While competing solutions typically require tens of seconds of footage to extract concealed data, the castLabs system only needs a single video frame.

The company’s ambitions extend beyond the entertainment industry. CastLabs also envisions media outlets using the watermarks to detect deepfakes and fake news, while governments can apply them to secret information.