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Microsoft wants to use Ethereum blockchain to fight piracy

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To combat the spread of piracy, Microsoft has proposed a new blockchain-based solution called Argus.

The Windows operating system and Office productivity suite have always been the best in all platforms for protecting against pirated software. Therefore, it is not surprising that Microsoft decided to turn to one of the most reliable developments – blockchain.

The company is also part of the Software Alliance (BSA); which known to track copyright infringements both offline and online.

BSA also known for its “piracy bounties”, promising whistleblowers monetary rewards in exchange for tips. It’s a controversial strategy that Microsoft’s own research team hopes to improve.

A few days ago, Microsoft’s research department published an article titled “Argus: A Fully Transparent Anti-Piracy Campaign Incentive System”, detailing its plan.

A document from researchers at Alibaba and Carnegie Mellon University suggests; that an open and transparent blockchain is part of the solution to the problem. This openness is currently lacking in BSA-style reporting mechanisms.

Microsoft hunts for bounty

The article is full of technical details. We’re not aiming to pass them all on; but simply put, Argus is a transparent system built on the Ethereum blockchain; that allows people to anonymously report piracy in exchange for a reward.

Pirated content traced back to its source using a unique watermark that matches the secret code. When a pirated copy reported, the status of the source (licensee) changed to “accused”. The system provides for the possibility of appeal, but if this fails, the status of the accused changed to “guilty”.

Argus is an open system, but there are various safeguards against abuse. For example, it is useless to report the same piracy case multiple times under different pseudonyms, as this will only diminish the reward.

Low blockchain costs

The system relies on multiple checks to make sure the system is open and at the same time avoids false accusations. According to the researchers, the cost of using blockchain is relatively low.

Is Microsoft ready for real-world benchmarks?

It is unknown if Microsoft plans to test the system in real-world conditions. In theory, it works with various types of media, including images, audio, and software.

However, it is unclear how effective this will be. Researchers “assume” that the applied watermarking technology protected from unauthorized access, which is not always the case today.

Overall, it is intriguing that blockchain technology is being used to enhance rather old-fashioned piracy reporting campaigns. However, this idea is not new, as the South African company Custos came up with a similar idea many years ago.

A Microsoft study notes that Argus is superior to Custos’ solution in assessing the severity of piracy and the strength of the allegations received. At the same time, they believe Argus is better than BSA campaigns because the payouts are transparent.

The Argus document and system will be presented at the upcoming 40th International Symposium on Reliable Distributed Systems, which will take place almost at the end of September.

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