Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Game of Thrones leak and watermark: a stupid tracking system (frite-camembert.net)
224 points by bru on Apr 13, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 275 comments

Next iteration would be changing the length of each scene by a few milliseconds. One can count that the first episode holds s=18 scenes. Each scene lasts several minutes. Once again each copy can be made shorter or longer by a couple milliseconds, providing a unique fingerprint for each version sent.

This sort of thing makes it hard for me to take any of the article seriously. The author doesn't seem to know the first thing about either video formats or the authorial role of editing. Things are cut on particular frames for a reason. Also, editors don't deal in milliseconds, they deal in frames. Sound editors work in frames and samples, and while I have no objection to steganography-type adjustments to the final output, the idea of monkeying around with the content of the film, even on the margins, for tracking purposes tells me that the writer shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a post-production facility, for the same reason that most programmers don't want an art director telling them how totheir code would look prettier in a fancy font and in a more earth-toned color scheme.

Honestly, I think HBO is quite well aware of this srot fo thing already, and the 4 episodes were leaked to hook people on the rest of the series. There's already a lot of digital distribution technology involving rock-solid encryption, single-use keys, check ins and outs, and so on. Tweaking things like the length of the end credits (or rather the black frames at the end) are potentially viable but also trivially obvious to any editor. But monkeying with the program material is strictly out of bounds.

Anyone who was going to get hooked on Game of Thrones is hooked, and anyone who is still on the fence isn't likely to torrent the leaked episodes. Incompetence is a better explanation, I think.

I think that statement is really rather silly. It's a bit like saying "anyone who is going to drink coke is already drinking coke". There's a ring of truth to it, but it still falls flat.

Edit: a few things: arguments based on the behavior of "the majority" and arguments founded on the principle that 100% of all people who have ever been Game of Thrones viewers are completely and utterly committed to viewing every single season are rather weak. Viewership of shows changes from season to season. More so, not every TV show viewer is the sort of person who must start a series from the beginning. Pulling in folks who are caught up on Game of Thrones but haven't been hooked on the current season and pulling in folks who will begin mid stream (and then maybe go back and watch from the beginning, or not) adds to their viewership. More viewers means more purchases, more purchases means more dollars.

Not to mention the value of retaining their existing viewership base.

These are all the same reasons why coke continues to dump massive amounts of dollars into advertising despite already being well known and having a huge chunk of the soft drink marketshare. In fact, the returns on investment for advertising already popular products tends to be higher than for products just entering the market, because the numbers are so big. There are millions of Game of Thrones fans. If even a few hundred thousand existing fans who might have held off on watching the new season are kept on the hook and if even a few hundred thousand non-watchers gain interest in the show via starting with the new season and if only a small fraction of those folks end up purchasing the discs, or HBO (in whatever form) then that's a considerable amount of money in HBO's pocket that would have been left on the table.

Which isn't saying it wasn't an accident, but business wise this is still a win for HBO.

I don't watch game of thrones. If I was going to start watching it, I would start at the beginning of the series instead of just jumping straight into the leaked episodes. By the time I get to the latest season, they would be formally released.

If you were going to start, it might be because the folks at the water cooler were excited about it - and this leak makes that more likely. People who'd dropped off might be reminded there's a new season coming and feel inspired to catch up. It's a great way to build hype for the "real" start of the new series.

I think accident is more likely, but HBO doesn't lose much - anyone who watches these episodes is going to want to watch the rest of the series and is going to pay HBO (or else would never have done so)

Yeah I'm with you, tho only people who seemed interested in the leaked episodes were big fans.

Except for the fact that this is a TV show, and the majority of people who want to begin watching it will want to start at the beginning with season 1.

Do you not realize how complex the workflow pipelines are for a film or TV series of any kind? And how shows involving a lot of special effects like GoT are orders of magnitude more complex? For the publicity and marketing side of things we like to send actors out on talk shows to talk about character and costumes and drama and so on, and maybe show a few shots of a giant camera on a greenscreen stage to talk about how innovative things are, but there's a vast amount of painstaking digital troubleshooting and assembly work by hundreds of people involved in the manufacture of the product. I think you underestimate the degree of engineering knowledge that obtains in the entertainment industry, and at how many different levels that engineering knowledge is applied.

I am hooked on GoT, my response to HBO is thus:

"Dear HBO, as a subscriber to HBO since 1983, I am saddened for this leak. As a huge fan of GoT, I am delighted, thank you, I will still watch all episodes in HD and DVR them every Sunday."


HBO should allow for HBO GO users to see the whole season at a time - the same way netflix does.

There is no reason to meter out the story. Netflix dumping a whole season on the wire when it gets released is the best release method ever.

Sorry, but I couldn't disagree more. Ever since Game of Thrones started, I have gathered with various groups of friends nearly every Sunday to watch the episode as it airs. Watching Game of Thrones has become a social event primarily because the release structure forces everyone to always be at the same point (even if some have read the books).

In contrast, after House of Cards s3 was released and we watched a few episodes together, it became a free for all. Having a conversation about the show with anyone is practically impossible unless everyone has seen the entire show.

Linear TV is over though. You can easily setup watch clubs or movies without having some exec throw your series around and invade your schedule and stretch it across a season.

Entertainment, in such a busy world, should be available at the leisure of the viewer, not some game rigged to keep interest over a time. Personally I'd rather watch the whole GoT season now to avoid seeing spoilers.

I think because of binging, better quality content is being created that is more complete and movie like. This content is meant to be consumed as a whole complete series and written as such, rather than hacked together a few weeks out and more plot holes or unnecessary episodes. Shows are so much better consumed in whole rather than across many many weeks, it leads to a stronger buy into the characters and the writing.

With binging, full availability, people can also easily catch up this way and watch older series more readily together. What we are moving to is a much better system than linear broadcast television which was only that way because there was limited network and resource availability, also it was all about the ads. I am sure there will be more watchers groups setup to binge together because so much more TV is available this way.

> Entertainment, in such a busy world, should be available at the leisure of the viewer, not some game rigged to keep interest over a time.

Well, it can't be. It has to be made first. No matter what, there will always be some kind of a delay in when you can watch the next X of Y, simply because we haven't invented time travel yet.

And I absolutely agree that the broadcast model -- where you see the thing only if you're at your TV at the right time -- is a thing of the past, but there's no reason that means serialization (which is what I think you mean by linear) should go away.

> I think because of binging, better quality content is being created that is more complete and movie like.

I won't argue, by any stretch, that scripted serialized storytelling (non-film) hasn't gotten markedly better over the last few years, but this kicked off long before Netflix dumped an entire season of HoC into your lap and can largely be credited to the shows that really raised the bar, like The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc. All of those were serialized. Netflix is a johnny come lately to this trend.

And there is actually value in having time to digest what you just watched. You're more likely to think critically about it and less likely to just swallow it as some giant mass of stuff. The social aspect of being in sync with other people -- even people you just met -- can mean finding new ways to think about the story that you didn't have before.

All the netflix model does is make it so our episodes of TV are impossibly long, and their impact on popular culture much much less. People absolutely talk more about shows they're actively watching during a season.

+1 for enjoying scheduled programming.

I don't believe this model will ever go away because of things like live sports. You can't "on demand" a live basketball game and part of the joy is enjoying the results unfold together.

This is something I had not ever thought of, so thank you for that.

As a father of three small kids, I don't have the luxury of a weekly viewing parties. I find solace in the times when I have several hours to binge watch at my own pace.

This thread is just some incredibly nice and cordial and thoughtful discussion, thank you everyone.

I personally prefer the Netflix format of all at once (especially with how little each plot line moves forward each episode) but I can understand a metered approach. You can generate much more hype and social media buzz if you trickle it out over time.

By distributing it gradually, the get more subscribers. I know plenty of people who pay HBO only during the time of the year that GoT is broadcast. That's about 3-4 months.

I recall the the last episode was postponed one week last year due to some strike or something alike, forcing people to pay an additional month of HBO. I heard a few complaining about this extra cost (and the fact that there was no episode that weekend!).

I worry more about torrent piracy in Australia — with impending Dallas Buyers Club lawsuits, I'm recommending everybody I know find it through alternate means or investigate VPNs. No matter how it was leaked, no doubt they're monitoring the swarm like hawks.

Only discovered GoT a year ago, and caught up by binge-watching all the episodes in less than 2 weeks.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

I'm not sure I understand your objections with editing the content of the video. The leaked episodes were screeners, intentionally degraded in quality (low res, watermarked). Changes like these will obviously not be shown to the final viewer.

I understand your point. But I think you are overestimating the power of artists to control content over business interests.

Syndicated shows on cable like "Friends" on TBS are already being sped up massively in order to fit more ads into a show.

I think we can pause on a Tyrion stare for 1/2 second more without ruining the show. And EVEN IF IT DOES RUIN THE SHOW, it is still very possible that HBO could use this strategy.


Something similar to the described algorithm is actually implemented in AACS as traitor tracking.

The idea that there are only 18 scenes or that you are free to add or remove a few frames between transitions is simply hilarious IMO.

Plus there are plenty of least significant bits or even non-significant bits everywhere in a file to implement solid watermarks.

There are even watermarks technologies that are said to be re-encoding resistant.

...or just use steganography. Steganography in videos can be made to be invisible to the naked eye, and extremely robust - even to video compression. It's also difficult to detect, and even more difficult to remove/tamper with.

What the author of the article is proposing is actually a kind of steganography, albeit a rather crude one, and probably rather difficult to implement (since scene timings will be different for each episode, and you'll need to keep a separate log of exactly which timings correspond to each person you've distributed the file to), compared to running a video through a process that embeds a steganographically hidden id pattern at each keyframe.

Came in to say this. It's the obvious answer, and presumably the IP owners know about it even if the author of the article does not. It's also obvious that the author doesn't understand video encoding if he is proposing measuring millisecond differences in the length of specific scenes.


The minimum difference in scene length allowable would be a single frame.

Do you actually know that or are you speculating?

I wouldn't be surprised if MP4 (or other video formats) provided a mechanism for tweaking the timing of a given frame. Of course, if you're using such a primitive watermark you might as well just add a note in the metadata...

Yes, I know that - I work in film and post-production for a living and I can explain the origin and workflow aspects of video frame rates to you in excruciating detail.

You know how annoying it is when you watch a movie and there's some sort of 2-dimensional 'hacker' character and s/he just says some gobbledegook about 'hacking the password' or whatever, you see something a progress bar briefly on screen, and then the actor says 'we're in!' In short, how stupid movies can be about computer topics? Well that's how it feels when someone who knows nothing about video formats or editing comes up with suggestions about adjusting the length between scenes by a few milliseconds and having it slightly different for every viewer.

This is a good time to bring up the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect(xhe).

It's where you read a page full of comments about something you really and truly deep know something about and see how very, every wrong nearly everyone is...

...then you go on to take every other page pretty seriously without remembering just how far off people were on the topic that you know about. I experienced this the other day when people were talking about beep.js on HN.

(xhe) http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/65213-briefly-stated-the-gel...

> This is a good time to bring up the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect

Thanks. Now I know the name for this.

thank you


I'm not wrong. Not because such things aren't possible (duh, we have cameras that can do varying frame rates), but because I am aware that content creators contract to deliver a product that will play back properly anywhere. Distributors' deliverables lists specify the exact frame and sample rates that they want, as opposed to what's potentially achievable within the format. Handing them something encoded with variable frame rate is going to result in automatic rejection.

Here's an example of a deliverables manual, from Netflix: http://newworlddistro.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/FullTec... You will get something similar from any broadcaster or video distributor. I'm not making careless extrapolations of my knowledge here, but telling you what the industry standards are. I have long involved email conversations about these things with distributors so that stuff I submit to them doesn't get sent back, triggering contractual penalty clauses for late/non-delivery that will make a producer cross with me.

But wouldn't it be trivial to notice that in the reencoding step and throw it away?

"Huh, this frame is supposed to be delayed by 3ms. Ah, screw it, [checks 'force to 23.97 fps' button]."

Yes, we know that. Video playback has physical constraints; a file format where image elements are sampled at irregular time intervals is obviously possible and useful for very "scientific" purposes like measuring when images are acquired and interpolating the raw data, but not reasonable for playing back on a screen with good compression and easy decompression.

Huh? VC-1 in WMV and H.264 in MKV both support VFR. It's not uncommon for handheld video cameras or some anime sources.

VFR exists, but would be very obvious in the metadata and would make the file unplayable on many devices.

Yeah, it's not really possible and as others have said it's by far the silliest possible way to accomplish unique file fingerprints.

its very straightforward. video comes in frames, what happens in between frames is that the same image is being displayed for that whole time. there is no way to end a scene half way through the frame - there is no visual cue or anything.

not to mention how you would go about defining the ends of scenes...

no standard format that i am aware of has variable framerate. it makes no sense.

Of course we have no idea if they used steganography or not, right? He bases the article on the idea that they have no tracking info except the watermark, but I don't see any evidence that they don't know more.

To be honest, when I heard that the files were protected with a watermark, I assumed that they actually meant a steganographic watermark. I thought that this tech had been adopted into the industry ages ago, I'm rather surprised if it isn't the case, given the arms-race between the media and illegal distribution.

Arms race? The entertainment industry has cantered out onto the jousting pitch with their horse and lance. Meanwhile illegal distribution is calibrating the laser cannons in their orbital battle station and dispatching their aircraft carrier battle groups.

I think you're wrong about the two sides. The guys with the orbital battle stations are the distribution channel. Watermarking isn't there to deter them, so their lasers don't matter.

Watermarking is a deterrent to the people who upload the content in the first place. The ones who're careless about who they'll share things with. A unique watermark (steganographic or visible) is about finding the source of the leak. In that arms-race the entertainment industry is facing people who can remove a watermark - but we have no idea whether or not they're winning. The fact that torrents exist with watermarks intact makes me think that perhaps they are.

The entertainment industry operates some 40 actual satellites that were put up into space using actual rockets, engages in petabyte-scale asset management as a matter of course, and constantly reworks its content acquisition pipelines as new digital and analog technologies come to market. We're a little bit more technologically sophisticated than you seem to imagine.

>reworks its content acquisition pipelines as new digital and analog technologies come to market.

I would have gladly paid them to watch a stream at 8pm last night, yet somehow that still isn't an option in 2015.

Instead I ended up with 4 episodes from a torrent at 8:15. Tell me more about embracing new technology as it comes to market.

In this case there's someone else who paid for you not to be able to stream it: Apple.

HBO Now is Apple TV exclusive for 3 months.

No, you can get it on Sling TV, too.

I thought HBO Now (I'm not a subscriber) allowed one to stream 5 minutes after air?

I remember hearing lots of noise about them offering a stand alone streaming service, I was even excited to try it out and see how it handled the traffic of a season premiere (HBOgo has been notably terribly on this front)

I googled around for about 15 minutes and was only able to find news articles announcing it. I'd be happy to pay them for what i've already watched if anyone could direct me to a sign-up for this elusive streaming service.

Here's the site: https://order.hbonow.com/

I don't have an iOS device or their specific supported ISP, so I haven't signed up.

I don't think "arms race" really applies when the two sides are building entirely different weapons. The entertainment industry is interested in pursuing the source of leaks - as the other comments here have mentioned, they've gotten pretty good at it.

I kind of assumed the laser cannons were on flying ostriches.

Your initial assumption was correct, it is widely deployed in the industry, there are multiple vendors that provide fingerprinting technology that is orders of magnitude more advanced then what the article suggests.

The visible fingerprint might just have been there to deter the clueless. In any case even with a fingerprint its hard to proof without a doubt, the individual who actually stole it.

The visible fingerprint might also be there to prove intent or add circumvention charges in court.

I don't think they need to prove that a certain individual stole it. The party which received the advanced copies likely had to take on liability, so HBO can go after them. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't turn around and lean on the actual culprit, but whether or not they catch someone HBO will have their due.

It's there to advertise HBO. It's that simple.

Same here. I was really surprised. That's why I thought that my very simple idea warranted writing a post.

no arrests, i am certain that if one of these early release approved people was caught they would make a huge song and dance about it to deter others. at oscar time the screeners make it onto torrent sites with ease. if they were able to find the leakers using current methods we would know about it.

They have tracked down leakers before. The issue is that even if you get a clear cut high profile case (like howard stern[1]) then what? It is pretty hard to prove intentionality or where exactly in the chain the data went astray. These things just get left around. If a screener disappears during a party, who even knows who took it (A guest, a caterer, or did it just end up under a couch)?

I've heard of minor reviewers and third party firms getting cut off after a leak is traced to them, but for the most part the back office people simply don't have the power to enforce against anyone of note. Also the evidence just isn't enough for an actual law suit against someone who can hire a lawyer.

1: http://torrentfreak.com/super-8-screener-leaks-with-howard-s...

I will say that steganography is definitely in use already, at least on feature films. (It's particularly easy in animation, where literally anything can be changed seamlessly). A film pirated from a theater (even by a camera pointing at a screen) can easily be traced to the exact theater and showing of the movie, and IR cameras in the theater permit authorities to identify the exact individual with the camera.

In short, don't try to film a movie in a theater; they will find you.

Yes. The author of the article is barging through an open door: It's very likely that those Game of Thrones episodes had individual hidden watermarking, and that using those they can tell exactly who leaked it.

The author jumped to the conclusion that those don't exist, apparently because they aren't visible (but that's the point!) and that there is a visible watermark which the author apparently assumed was the only one (but it almost certainly isn't).

While stego might be a route, blurring the watermark may not be enough to obscure the source.

Given a known frame, they could blur the same portion of the same frame on all watermarked copies, and the one with a matching output is your culprit.

Blurring loses information, but is more akin to a hash than a deletion, as it's a deterministic process.

Edit: this sort of thing. http://dheera.net/projects/blur

It's a deterministic process, but it still has inputs. You'd have to know those inputs or test for every possible set of inputs to whatever blurring method was used.

It depends on the blurring method. If you do a gaussian blur, for example, you might be able to do a pretty good inverse blur by finding black frames and performing blind deconvolution. If I were at risk I'd use a nonlinear injective filter instead, to make sure information is lost (linear filtering is not only deterministic but perfectly without noise and no frequency response nulls).

I imagine HBO knows every reviewer they gave a watermarked copy to.

This might be a very naive suggestion (I know nothing about the subject) but couldn't you just take two copies, XOR them and blank out the difference to defeat such signatures?

We're talking about images, so if you take the pixels for example they're just {0,...,255}^n, integers.

You can if you have the original file, but then what's the point?

Otherwise, take image a=original+f1, image b=original+f2. Then if you e.g. average them you still have c=original+f1/2+f2/2 -- so both signatures are kept (theoretically if either you have a large number of sources you could average the signals out of existence, or perhaps the system isn't robust and can't detect multiple sigs). This assumes the introduced signatures are indistinguishable from the source (quite reasonable).

Even if that worked (maybe it does, I don't know) you'd still have the very major obstacle of getting two potential leakers (from presumably separate publications) to find each other and collude without getting caught.

I think that could be avoided by making sure that large parts of the signatures overlap. There's probably some scheme to be able to recover which copies were used to make the leaked copy (up to some finite number of copies, but it quickly becomes impractical to get enough copies).

Over 4 separate files, depending on how they encode the IDs, you might still find out who the leakers are. They might share some bits and not others. The studio can take its time if it has a serious leaking issue.

What the author of the article is proposing is actually a kind of steganography, albeit a rather crude one, and probably rather difficult to implement

...but easy to explain (and sell?) to the entertainment industry, who have shown themselves to be mostly technically illiterate. Some cynical, unscrupulous hacker could probably extract a lot of money from them for such a service...

Author here. That's my goal, but I don't have their email address so I simply wrote it down there.

Wouldn't a simple re-encode break any sort of stenography?

No. There are algorithms out there that can survive compression[1] by encoding statistically over an image instead of just bit manipulation.

You can also embed data in the audio channel by alternating between two imperceptible echo kernels for 1/0[2]. This is extremely compression resistant.

1: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?tp=&arnumb...

2: http://www.slidefinder.net/a/audio_steganography_echo_data_h...

Surely it would be possible to create encoding resistant stenography. Will the stenography be affected, sure, but it should be possible to create error-resistant stenography up to a certain point.

Stenography: encode information such that it is below the human detection threshold.

Lossy compression: discard all sub-threshold information.

Thus, in the general case it's fundamentally impossible. You can make a scheme that will survive certain known encoders and bitrates, but you can't make one that will survive all lossy compression.

How will that survive transcoding? What if you bump it down to 477p resolution?

There will be a limit to how much compression it can take, but some methods e.g. Echo Hiding are extremely compression resistant (I've implemented this over a phoneline - it works).

> and extremely robust - even to video compression. It's also difficult to detect, and even more difficult to remove/tamper with.

Split & merge frame by frame, in random, from multiple video sources. Visually they will be the same, but steganography has a high chance of been broken.

Any steganography solution on the market today that is worth its salt would actually be robust against this. The amount of different sources you would have to combine to protect against this is higher than you'd realistically be able to find.

Disclaimer: I used to work at one of the leading companies in this field.

That's very interesting. I always assumed averaging (maybe with varying weights across frames and time), or applying a few rounds of other steganography, would degrade the encoded message into noise.

Could you link to some papers? If you try to encode lots and lots of messages with different keys into the video, does it ruin the quality before ruining previous messages?

I'm not sure in how much details I can go since a lot of this is behind patents and NDAs and whatnot, but just googling for "video watermarking" should already yield quite a few interesting details for you.

the algorithm could tell exactly which sources are used in the final video?


Are you being sardonic? There are extremely obvious ways to do this particularly since they've got both space, color, sound and particularly time to play with. Unmixing signals isn't rocket science, especially if you've provided the signals that are getting mixed.

it's amusing to me, how much effort people are willing to put in to get free entertainment.

Even better? Those of us who do it all after paying for the service.

Sometimes, it's not about the money.

It it were a full-screen steganograph it would need to be subtle as to not interfere with viewing. So could that be combatted by re-compressing with another codec?

> it would need to be subtle as to not interfere with viewing

Pre-release screeners often have big ugly on-screen watermarks. Almost anything is better than a scrolling mid-screen line of text "PROPERTY OF STUDIO NAME DO NOT PIRATE THIS FILM".

Steganography (which may or may not have been used) wouldn't have any effect whatsoever on the number of downloads

I don't see anyone anywhere claim that it would. It would only aid in tracing the source of the leak.

True - and then what? The leaked episodes may have been stolen or can be claimed to have been stolen.

Anyway, the horses have bolted and the damage is done.

Yes, but the leaker would be blacklisted from all future HBO (and possibly partner) pre-release materials.

Do you know for a fact that the leaker is the same person (organisation?) that has received the official HBO material? Maybe it is more like this: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/expendables-3-online-leak-two-arres...

Maybe so, but HBO isn't obligated to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Arguably if someone can't keep the screener secured from internet thieves they're still not a trustworthy guardian of the content.

And probably sued into oblivion.

For at least the last 20 years, there are steganographic watermark systems in which inocuous parts of the images are used to hide coded data that stands up to even most lossy recompression.

Either HBO is using these and nobody knows yet; or they had an internal leak prior to their application; or they leaked it themselves. Under no plausible circumstances did they visibly watermark a corner and hope for the best.

I looked into stenography for a client who had a problem with audio being leaked by the users of his service. Even though there is a lot less signal in audio, it was trivial to encode a 32-bit pattern throughout the audio track in such a way that it was not discernible to his well-trained ears, and yet it would survive being encoded as a 64kbps MP3. We also checked pushing it through an analog loop, since that was most likely how his tracks were being pirated.

The pattern would repeat throughout the song (I think once per minute) such that only a small sample was necessary to recover the pattern. It also had enough check bits that it was impossible to get the wrong code; either you'd get back the right code or nothing. This was all done with COTS software (a command-line executable) that could be licensed for a few hundred dollars.

My client ultimately decided not to add stenography. He believed that his users would be upset with the possibility that there was some quality loss due to the process, as they were paying a lot of money to have high-definition tracks. He thought the losses from the discovery that he was applying stenography would exceed the ongoing loss from piracy.

> the losses from the discovery that he was applying stenography would exceed the ongoing loss from piracy.

A very likely correct conclusion, and there an additionally logical error with the assumption that privacy would disappear if they used it. Just because the copyright owner can sue whoever distributed the first copy doesn't mean piracy would stop after that. In order to get any effect at all, they would have to tell every customer about it, and the effect would likely not be 100%. It only take one person who upload the song to make it a permanent resident in torrent swarms.

If someone were to use this, the profit calculation is 1: Can winning lawsuits cover the costs, 2: Can informing (accusing) all your customers be worth the decreased rate of uploads. If neither of those 2 sound attractive to your business model, then spending money/reputation on personalized watermarks is completely pointless.

(edit) additionally, lets look at a typical scenario. Let say a file is being spread unlawfully and you track down it to customer 40#. The customer is a hardcore fan, studying for a music degree, and has no idea how the song "got out" when confronted. Customer 40# is against piracy, as can be seen by the major library of lawfully bought copies. However, they are also a member of a small fangroup, and did share the song with its 10-20 members. The customer was sure that everyone in that place would never think of uploading it to a public place. The question then becomes, do you continue with the lawsuit and put this student, this great fan in debt for the rest of their life?

That's certainly the right thinking for consumers. In my client's case it was B2B in the entertainment industry where licensing fees were per-day and substantial, so there are no poor students involved. Sorry for being vague as I don't want to link to him here without his permission.

I think he might have made the wrong decision in his case, as adding leak penalties to his contracts would have made his users more careful with his files. Since he was in turn licensing some rights from other parties, leaks in the past had caused him some legal trouble and he didn't want to have that happen again. His solution was to add DRM, but it didn't close the analog hole so there's still the potential for leaks. (I haven't talked to him in a few years so I'm not sure if things have improved.)

It seems that HBO gave copies of the four episodes screeners(?) to much more companies than previous years and this what's led to the leak. So since HBO is interested in leaking , i don't think it cares that much about protection.

And in any case - this won't hurt their subscription numbers - if you've wanted to watch the show, you've already subscribed to the first month and it's too late to cancel.

I wouldn't be surprised if they leaked it themselves so they'd have download numbers that they could use to evaluate the success of HBO Now (their over-the-top offering).

> Either HBO is using these and nobody knows yet

I suspect this is the case. It seems like people are assuming HBO's silence means they didn't use a steganographic watermark. I disagree; I don't see any reason why they would feel the need to tell the world - especially if they plan on pursuing this legally.

I think they watermark a corner to clue the person receiving it in on the fact that it is watermarked.

When the first two leaked, I thought HBO did it to ease the pressure on HBO Go/Now, but I stopped believing this after 3 and 4 were leaked.

>Under no plausible circumstances did they visibly watermark a corner and hope for the best.

Corporate ineptitude.

The website says his method of randomly changing the length of the credits is a step in the right direction. I think that's completely wrong.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130808/02084524106/time-... "Our experience is that it leads to more paying subs. I think you're right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world," he said. "That's better than an Emmy." - Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes

THAT is a step in the right direction.

Even if you decide that you are okay with some leaks, you still want to know which employees / partners / journalists you can't trust.

as a child of the early oughts, having the CEO of Time Warner extol about having the most pirated show in the world -- not to mention explicitly stating it leads to more subscribers -- is almost jaw dropping.

I think he meant it's a step in the right direction towards solving the technical problem of identifying who leaked the material.

More generally he could have meant that tracking the leak is a step in the right direction towards HBO having control over when their material is released. Even in a fantasy world where all entertainment is free I think artists should have control over releasing their own work.

In any case, I'm curious as to what the endgame is in the right direction you mentioned.

    > Apart from that I think that binge-watching the first
    > 4 episodes is a stupid idea that will make you ache
    > for a month waiting for the 5th episode ☺.
For me, I find more enjoyment in binging shows than being drip-fed, I watched all 4 in a row and don't regret not waiting (besides I've waited 12 months I can wait a few more weeks for more.)

But more importantly, my online activity means I'll probably be spoiled before the 4th episode airs, not to mention people "predicting" events (read: passing off spoilers as theory) throughout the coming weeks. I'd rather not take that risk, personally, the cost of spoilers far outweighs the costs of waiting for me.

I'm the opposite. I love watching an episode then devouring every piece of online content about it over the next week. I subscribe to the subreddits (the GOT one will not allow discussion of the leaked episodes), enjoy every conspiracy theory, etc. etc. - compared to a show like House of Cards, where I just watch it and drop it.

I honestly think that there needs to be a compromise between the weekly releases common in TV and the season dumps common by streaming services like Netflix. Dumping the whole season at once doesn't allow any communal discussion or suspense, dragging it out over 2 months is meant more to drive revenue for the distributors than the enjoyment of the viewing public. I think releasing 3 episodes a week is probably the optimal strategy; it gives the show's communities time to confer and it keeps a reasonable pace without placing what some apparently feel is a demand to watch all 13 episodes in one sitting. It mitigates spoiler paranoia that you get with Netflix shows (which only further diminishes the communal aspects) and does other good things. I think it's all around the best strategy for the consumer. I understand Netflix uses binge releases as one of its selling points, but maybe now that they've established a respectable pedigree, they can stage some of their releases in iterations moving forward.

A compromise already exists. It's really very simple - you and friends agree on a pace to watch a show at.

This is flexible, and can fit any schedule! You and friends can watch in whatever pattern you want, and it requires exactly nothing of Netflix! You can deploy this method today!

This would unquestionably satisfy your needs. Why would you need anything other than a dump from Netflix?

It doesn't satisfy the needs of the larger community. Yes, if you watch in person with a group of a few friends and that's all you care about, this works fine. It can't realistically be implemented on the scale of something like a subreddit or a whole office.

There is a massive difference in both quality and activity between /r/HouseOfCards and /r/GameOfThrones. The "season dump" just doesn't work on a scale that exceeds one living room.

Communities are capable of organizing. Further, I submit that the needs of the larger community are served by a flexible dump. Subreddits and social circles are not the larger community - they're small, highly active communities.

/r/GameOfThrones has 484k subscribers. /r/HouseOfCards has 50k subscribers. These are not "small communities" and there's no reason that there should be 9.5x more interest in GoT than HoC; they're both gritty political thrillers and HoC usually has more episodes per season than GoT. I posit that the GoT sub is much more active because the way that HBO releases content makes communal watching and discussion much easier -- you don't have to worry about trying to coordinate episode watching times between 500k people, and people who can't make the official air time can avoid for 1-2 days before they find time and can get caught up.

I know Reddit and subreddits fairly well - most subscribers to a sub are silent and passive. 50k is a small community. Stacked against the whole of the viewerbase, 50k is even smaller a community. I posit that GoT is much more active because the show draws on a hugely engaging series of books that has been building a fanbase for a decade - an excellent reason for an 8x difference in size.

Bluntly, you're not making a compelling argument for taking flexibility away from the silent majority that watches and doesn't aggressively engage in public discussion. You're arguing from a position where the putative needs of that minority is the only thing that matters.

Anecdotally, I have three different friend groups I talk to about Game of Thrones. Everyone is always caught up, the line for book spoilers is obvious, and as a result its a common conversation topic anyone can join in on. Conversely, no one talks about House of Cards. We've tried a few times, but after a bunch of "I've watched it all," "I'm on episode 8," "Oh, I'm only on episode 5," etc. we just stopped bringing it up.

At the end of the day, television is just entertainment. And I get a lot more entertainment from being able to discuss drip-rate shows with friends.

>It doesn't satisfy the needs of the larger community.

Do you think there is a "need" missing in the larger TV watching community that must be addressed regarding the pace of releases? Should there be a vote after each TV show on how many days people need to think about the episode before the next one comes out?

Yea I agree. My co-workers were talking about Netflix's Daredevil series, and we ran into these exact issues. We kept trying to avoid spoilers, we ended up just changing the topic. It all seemed a little weird to me.

Binging makes the pacing of slow shows way more tolerable.

Yes, I was wondering why they sent 4 episodes for review. Then I watched the first episode and I saw why...nothing is going to happen until the 4th episode. They've been teasing us with white walkers since season 1. And those dragons too...they were born in season 1 or 2 and they've hardly killed anyone yet.

I guess I'm a sucker for the never-ending suspense...best show on tv.

The 'problem' is that there are relatively few minor characters. Though there are clearly some overarching plot lines, pretty much all the arcs are very important to the story.

As a result you've got to focus a little bit on each person and in a 55 minute show that means 5-10 minutes per story arc per episode. This only gets worse as more characters become important. It's somewhat balanced by other characters being killed off, mind!

It feels like there should be a lot more than 10 episodes per season.

Friend that have read the books say this is the same problem in the books. Nothing really happens. Things drag on and on.

I love watching GoT due to the high-quality production mixed with nudity and occasional awesome scenes. But I've given up on really enjoying much of the plot progress.

Maybe you are thinking of Fast Forward button in you player?

My time is precious to me, I stopped watching TV. Everything comes out of mplayer now, and if I cant fast forward whenever I want I simply dont touch that content.

That touchy feely 2 minute character building all talk no action scene between two insignificant parts in Walking Dead? Two clicks and its gone.

Seems a little like you have a pretty efficient system for watching all that TV you don't watch.

I'm right there with you, there is quite a bit you can miss by NOT binging on a show stuff that you may forget over the span of a week but when watching them back-to-back you pick up on. Now some people might just say "well if you were half-way intelligent you would remember and get the long-running or episode-spanning jokes/themes/etc" but that's just how my memory works. I distill down to the facts I need and throw away much of the rest knowing I can always get them back if wanted (by re-watching). By binging I don't have time to forget the little things and it makes it more enjoyable to me. That said this doesn't mean I NEVER pick up on jokes/recurring themes just that I pick up on a lot more by binging.

I also agree with the spoilers. The cat is out of the bag and I'm not going to potentially ruin the show by waiting for each to air (and seeing spoilers or "theories") especially after waiting this long for the new season.

Was talking to my partner about this and she had a pretty clever take:

"Seems like a simple idea would simply be to change just the spelling of one seemingly insignificant name near the end of each version of the credits and then by actually watching the credits you'd know the leaker straight away."

"Of course, you'd leave the watermark on there so the leaker doesn't know how you caught them and thinks that the watermark is still the tracking mechanism."

That's a mountweazel (better known as a fictitious entry) - reference books used to do it to trap people copying the text:


With it changing to detect which person leaked, it's more a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canary_trap

Hilariously, that wikipedia page uses an example from Game of Thrones. Tyrion tells different versions of a rumor to the various members of the king's council and successfully identifies who is an informant for Cersei.

Or a trap street, used to detect copying of maps.


Unsure how the credits work for Game of Thrones, but if it's like most shows where it's just the rolling black screen at the end of the show then most torrents cut that part off entirely by default.

Still waiting for some clever chap to cut the opening out as well. The dream would be to have one version of the opening and a mencoder script to put the pieces back together. It would shave a few dozens megabytes on each file off.

People won't do this for GoT in particular as the opening changes episode to episode and gives you a preview into the locations that that episode will deal with. A lot of people enjoy the openings and pay attention to them.

I liken it to the Simpsons or Futurama in the sense that things subtly change (e.g. locations which are destroyed in the show, are destroyed in the opening, and such).

Indeed. Not only this, but the opening credits also gives the names of the actors (which change from one episode to the next), director, writer etc. of the episode, which are unique to each episode.

I was not talking about Game of Thrones in particular though.

This is quite widely done for anime. The opening credits are actually different episode to episode for Game of Thrones both in people and the animation.

You're right, they're not just different but relevant to the episode, they can foreshadow or highlight the importance of a particular region to the current episode, remind viewers of the geography, emphasise the different factions. Much more than a static credit - the music is also a fantastic mood setter in this case. The different places are shown with slightly different flourishes too, unless I'm mistaken, the style of the credits is really good.

I think you can tell I'm a fan!

People have done this with Matroska playlists already for some series, although it's not always worth the amount of work that gets put into it. (For example, the opening might change from episode to episode so that spoiler characters aren't shown before they show up in the series.)

Or still shown after they are no longer on the show. I've considered cutting my videos to exclude the intro but it's not an exact science and sometimes the intro is different and I don't want to miss that. In the end most intros are not long enough to worry about cutting (though GoT is LONG). If it's long I can just FF through.

Some release groups do this. It's incredibly annoying. It might have made sense a decade ago. Especially, I think, some of THORA's really high-quality rips. OK its 22GB. I've saved maybe half a GB doing this intro/outro in separate files. Does it really matter?

Or, just add an insignificant name (changing someone's name might run you afoul of contracts, even in a review copy).

Add a series of random names in the middle of Special Thanks. The names are in a list stored somewhere, so are actually (large base) digits of a serial number.

Trivially detectable. Find two screeners. Search for different frames. Oh look, the credits are different! Let's delete the credits to be safe!

You want to make it so that the entire binary content of the film looks different for each person, so there can be no point of reference apart from what it looks like (which is the same).

Oh of course. I don't doubt something more sophisticated would be used in practice.

Someone already brought this up, but the chance of a leaker getting hold of two screeners would be very low.

But yes, once it was discovered that information was being embedded in the credits, those would be cut.

You're right about changing. Credit is very big deal for those who worked on it...

But in this wide world there are fans who painstakingly go through the credit and put the text online. Sometimes even special thanks. So a fake name could be detected, and once the m.o. is detected, in this networked age, everyone would know it and people will start looking for it.

Or a real stenography technique that doesn't require them to actually re-render scenes.

It's a bit hard to encode millisecond scale differences in scene or credit lengths - when the video is quantized to ~40ms frames...

Edit the frame length.

Or there's another reason not to use a better tracking system: HBO is ok with leaks. The more the show gets leaked, the larger the audience. Some portion of that audience will pay for HBO, and hopefully stick around for the other HBO shows. HBO has been remarkably progressive on the piracy front.

It's also only the first four episodes: enough to get you hooked enough to want to see the end. Of course, torrents are always an option, but at some point $15/mo is worth less than the hassle of downloading the show on a weekly basis.

> HBO has been remarkably progressive on the piracy front.

I'm not suggesting that's not accurate, but I'd love to better understand your sources for that, as my single point of anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.

About six or seven years ago we torrented a single episode of an HBO series (I forget which—we were cable-cutters and it wasn't available to rent online at the time) and while we knew it was wrong, it was convenient and it worked.

However, we were surprised when, two days later, I received an email from Comcast saying HBO had reported that our IP address had pirated copyrighted material, and that if we did it again our service would be shut off and we'd possibly face civil charges. That actually shocked me into avoiding bittorrent altogether, which was undoubtedly their goal.

Empty threats or not, I hardly walked away feeling that HBO was "remarkably progressive on the piracy front".

Maybe things have changed?

(Note, I'm not actually pro-piracy, since I do think that copyright holders deserve a right to monetize their work as they see fit, within bounds. I just wish more of them had a more sophisticated view on how to make their content more broadly and conveniently available.)

They're just empty threats to make you sign up for HBO service. I don't recall hearing of HBO ever going after anyone who just downloaded a torrent. They've said in the past that they accept some level of piracy as part of the business model; so long as people are watching their shows they will keep making money.

It's not "sure, go ahead and pirate our shows!" but more of "People pirate our shows, so we look at piracy for trends to see what countries/audiences have a large, underserved viewer base for our shows." Some people pirate because shows are unavailable, so you can sell to them and make money. People who pirate because they're cheap and don't want to pay aren't HBO's target customers (and they probably don't have enough money to be worth suing anyway).

In the US these notices get spammed a lot. You quickly learn to use a VPN or seedbox or whatever. Personally, I use put.io even when the stuff is on Netflix. I get higher quality versions (or I get to pick the quality), I get subtitles (Netflix hates deaf people, even on "Netflix Original Series" where you'd think they have the rights.) I get flexibility. (Play anywhere, fix audio levels, fix brightness, etc.)

And it's actually pretty easy, just using my phone. I go to a torrent site, search. Longpress the Magnet URI. Open with Put.io App. Switch to Put.io (transfers are instantly done for popular files). Turn on Chromecast and hit play.

This seems like the most likely scenario. After all, how do the leaks negatively affect HBO? Anyone who was going to pay for HBO to watch the first four episodes had almost certainly already paid HBO by the day of the first episodes' airing. Only four episodes leaked, so no one is going to cancel HBO because they already received their Game of Thrones fix. HBO has no advertising, so the actual ratings for their shows are totally irrelevant. If you were already going to pirate the show, the leak just lets you pirate the show a little earlier. Finally this entire story just serves as extra advertising for the show. Is there any other possible story that would have Game of Thrones as one of the top posts on HN?

Exactly. There is so little downside to HBO from this leak that I'm surprised nobody else is saying this. It's not like the show isn't on torrent sites within an hour of each episode airing - anyone who would torrent the show and not pay for it was already going to do so.

It's also worth noting that anyone in the US who has an iOS device can get the first four episodes for free "legally" -- HBO Now comes with a one-month free trial.

This is a stupid blog post. There are two goals:

1) Prevent copies from being leaked 2) Trace leaks if they happen

Watermarks are actually great for the first goal. They are big, ugly, and obvious. This discourages people from leaking. If they do leak it's crystal clear they're taking a huge risk. This is also why the DVD screener is low-res SD.

HBO already tracked down where the leak came from. Whatever methods they have in place to do so were successful. Thus any complains about watermarks being ineffective at goal #2 are irrelevant.

That you for that "typical HN comment".

>This is a stupid blog post.

Have you seen the topic discussed on the Internet? I looked for it and I haven't, so I simply started it. Given the score of the submission and the number of comments, that goal is reached. I learned a lot from other comments and I'm happy.

> HBO already tracked down where the leak came from.


Normally I'm the one complaining about typical HN comments. However given the blog post was titled "Game of Thrones leak and watermark: a stupid tracking system" I felt that leading with "This is a stupid blog post" to be a fair and amusing twist.

“Sadly, it seems the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of Game of Thrones originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them,” the spokesperson said. “We’re actively assessing how this breach occurred.” http://www.buzzfeed.com/jaimieetkin/game-of-thrones-season-5...

They've at least narrowed the leak down to be from inside HBO. They may not have it down to an individual just yet. Their internal process may need some work.

Ah, I feel dumb for not catching it. It is fair indeed.

About the article: that's not what I understand...

> a group approved by HBO to receive [the episodes]

What I understand is that the leak did not come from HBO but from one of their service providers or journalists or anything like that. Am I missing something?

Ah, you're right on the leak source. I over read "within". Sadly if they do pinpoint who leaked the copy I'm not sure it'll ever become public knowledge.

HBO has had DVD screener leaks before. If they all have the same watermark and the watermark is the only tracking info they have then, for all the reasons you put out, that'd just be silly.

How can people so easily assume that the watermark was truly the only tracking present? HBO wouldn't immediately come out swinging even if they knew who or where the copy was leaked.

Thats an astute observation. Whenever you're tricking someone, you put something stupid easy in for the tricked person to defeat, so they assume they're tricking you.

But it could be even easier. Why not put the watermark in a different location for every copy you distribute?

The silly thing is that nobody seems to realize that the public has only seen 1 leaked copy, probably from 1 source. HBO could be using any number of techniques and none of us would notice any of them because we have a sample size of 1. Even the odd techniques OP describes could be present in the copy, your described technique as well, any number really. We won't see them unless they are as in-your-face as the watermark.

Does all the math littering this post add anything? "Add a few ms variation to each each scene" seems extremely self-explanatory, and so does the concept that only a few bits per scene are needed to produce a meaningful number of variations.

As much as I enjoy using summations liberally, a simple visualization of the spacing between frames would have been more useful.

Author here. I can easily use summations, but I'm definitely incompetent when it comes to making a visualization!

And as per your parent's remark, most math is there "for fun" as written in the article.

Can someone help me understand the negative impact of this leak? From what I can tell, the leak only benefits HBO. Viewership numbers in the age of time-shifting are worthless. Moreover, viewers now cost HBO money, in terms of server load during the peak viewership time. If even a small number of people avoided the broadcast during the premiere, HBO actually wins - and there's no telling how many people decided to subscribe to their new service after watching the leaked copy.

Anyone who remembers the first GoT streaming premieres, they were largely catastrophic on the the servers. Last night appears to have gone well. I'm beginning to think HBO leaked it themselves.

> Can someone help me understand the negative impact of this leak?

The best way to deal with piracy is by offering a better experience to customers than to pirates. Here, that would be HD + not having to look for a torrent server that isn't currently blocked in your country. Just as people rarely try to evade paying their train/tube tickets unless they're broke: their time and convenience isn't worth that sort of hassle.

Had it been a leak of one episode hours before it aired, it wouldn't have been detrimental to HBO. But 4 episodes at once mean pirates can get one month worth of binge watching, which is _the_ thing people want and TV channels can't offer. That means many paying HBO customers will watch the pirated version and ask themselves why they keep paying their subscription. Even those who choose not to watch the leaked versions, will no doubt experience some amount of frustration due to having to make that choice. And their are other minor inconveniences, such as having to avoid spoilers on forums.

Your point would have been completely valid, had GoT been produced by a binge-friendly media such as Netflix, though.

Viewership numbers in the age of time-shifting are worthless

Do Comcast/TWC/DirecTV/Echostar feel that way? If even one person that was planning to subscribe to HBO over cable/satellite to watch this season decided to bail and watch the torrent instead, then the leak has economic impact. DVRs are irrelevant.

They most certainly do not feel that way because their business model is quite different from that of HBO.

HBO doesn't want to encourage more people to go learn how to use bittorrent / usenet / streaming sites.

Someone who figures out how to get these episodes very well might just cancel HBO and get them all that way.

Though, a fairly credible rumor said that Showtime did strategic bittorent leaks. For a while almost every single season had the first two episodes leaked in high quality. Of course, it could have been one leaker just doing it each time.

I think it is pretty incredible that these leaks are not more common.

HBO most certainly did not leak it themselves; they could have their copyright on the material invalidated for that.

To elaborate, intellectual property law is essentially "use it or lose it" - a company that does not defend its IP against unauthorized use is likely to have it invalidated. One that actively promotes unauthorized use is almost certain to.

"use it or lose it" is only a property of trademark laws, not copyright or other IP laws.

If HBO is not making a good-faith effort to secure for George R.R. Martin all the royalties that he is entitled to (which deliberately leaking GoT to torrent sites certainly would not be), then there isn't a court in the world that wouldn't consider HBO to be in breach of contract and return the TV rights to Martin.

> which deliberately leaking GoT to torrent sites certainly would not be

This is my central question that has not been answered. How is deliberately leaking GoT not beneficial to HBO? How does the company generate revenue from everyone watching it on their service at once (remember, HBO themselves mentioned that they don't mind piracy and the old joke is that for every one subscriber to HBO GO there are dozens of other, non-related people using those credentials)

There are audio watermarks on these leaked videos, and potentially other video watermarks that might not be visible at first sight.

The watermark which has been blurred is a just a visual warning to the original receiver of the file to remind them that they have a special copy, it's not meant to act as a form of identification.

Author is plain wrong here. The big visible watermark is there for the psychological effect, not to trace the leaks. There's always a plenty of hidden ones. (Missing frames etc)

HBO will definitely know who they sent the episodes to, but that doesn't necessarily mean they know who leaked them.

yeah I thought this was the case too. no one in the industry, let alone the people distributing one of the most popular and leak-sensitive shows of all time, is going to rely on just a logo in the corner.

While using the millisecond length of things would be clever and would catch which copy it originated from while it remained secret that was how you were doing it. As soon as it was known it is not much harder for the person ripping the copy to shorten all the scenes by a random number of milliseconds than it is for them to blur the watermark.

I mean this could be a good addition to the current tech used in something like Cinavia, which is the most robust system I have seen and if not already doing it could easily identify individual sources. But the inaudible audio and steganography used in that system just seem much more of a pain to circumvent than using lengths of scenes as a serial number of sorts.

I am surprised things such as Cinavia[1] isn't more widely used for tracking. It is designed to cut off the audio after 20 minutes which you see on a PS3 with many Bluray Disc rips released on torrents.

For that to work obviously you need the player to implement the feature but this isn't about disabling playback but simply tracking a leak. Just tweak it audio on each early release copy and you are good to go.

The really interesting thing about Cinavia is that it survives even an audio transcode/re-encode so even converting 5.1 DTS to MP3 or similar won't kill it. It is extremely robust in that sense.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinavia

"A few milliseconds" won't work - you must do it in units of frames.

That's what I was thinking, too. Given that each frame is about 42ms, that's not a trivial oversight. Much easier would be to use stenography to slightly manipulate the color of sets of pixels in the video. Far more information available to mess with, and extremely easy to hide (do it in various corners of various frames, keep the secret carefully guarded, or only let parts of the "secret" out to different groups, so that no one person knows all of the manipulation information, except, perhaps a head of security coordinating the entire thing)

came here to say the same thing.

the same ideas apply to frames, if you drop one from a scene you'd have to add it back elsewhere.

it just means comparing two copies would be easier to check for this technique than with a ms-based approach.

i think it also reduces your problem space as cutting a scene by over a few frames would be extremely obvious in most shows with competent editors.

Instead of wasting efforts on DRM and watermarking, they can avoid handing out copies until release time. But in practice they probably benefit from leaks, it keeps the buzz.

About the futility of so called "social DRM", see also http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blog...

How do we know they're not using techniques like this?

Anyone else here think HBO's missing out on a business opportunity? I wonder why they don't charge rabid fans (a _lot_) extra for early access to episodes. There appears to be a lot of demand for this.

If there was an option to just pay HBO per episode and then legally torrent the episode, I'd gladly do it in a heartbeat. Heck, it could be as simple as an HBO web page where I can donate an appropriate amount, and that would in turn legalize the download. I wouldn't even want them to digitize or host the content (they'd screw it up anyway). Sadly, that's not going to happen.

I think illegal filesharing threatens the industry primarily not because it's free, but because it offers a lot of features and convenience which the content providers refuse to grant their customers willingly.

> I think illegal filesharing threatens the industry primarily not because it's free, but because it offers a lot of features and convenience which the content providers refuse to grant their customers willingly.

It's a bit of a cycle isn't it? The reason they refuse to grant the convenience is because it enables illegal filesharing. Works the other way too.

> because it enables illegal filesharing

Illegal filesharing doesn't need to be enabled, it's already happening regardless.

Incidentally, the argument that people would simply re-share illegally what they bought had been used against getting rid of DRM in audio files for a long time. Today the major music stores provide DRM-free music by default. Yes, these files can be shared, but considering the fact that they were already out there, the impact was minimal.

The only material difference between me using Napster in the nineties and me using iTunes right now is the fact that they're actually allowing me to pay for my music.

I don't disagree, but unfortunately I'm not in a position to influence copyright holders.

Those episodes would immediately be leaked to everyone after becoming available and HBO would lose a ton of viewership on its own platform.

This is happened anyway, and they are capturing none of this possible revenue. Even if only one person purchased the early access and leaked it to everyone else they'd still be one sale better off than they currently are.

Yes this has now happened one time. It doesn't happen every season. If you allowed early release of episodes to customers who were willing to pay more, you can pretty much guarantee that those will be leaked early every single time.

I don't mean they should charge $10 or $20 for early access. I think they should be charging a couple hundred dollars - think VIP bottle service prices. Human nature being what it is, I suspect that people who are willing to pay for that level of access won't want to share it with the rest of us proles.

It works. Take, for example, $1,600 Photoshop Extended, which has never been pirated.

Everyone in her claims that there are mechanisms to add non-visual watermarks into both video & audio, anyone have any suggestions as to what products / systems to use so this can be implemented? Minus writing one yourself (like writing your own framework, you don't know all the gotcha's of an expert)

It's not a very compression-resistant approach and more sophisticated methods are usually used, but a simple one is using the low bits of colour channels. In a red pixel you have bits like so:

  RED      GREEN    BLUE
  11111111 00000000 00000000
A change in the most significant bit of any of these colours would be massive. 01111111 is half as bright as 11111111.

But a change in the least significant bit(s) is barely noticeable. You probably wouldn't notice the difference between 11111111 and 11111110, especially as you don't experience individual colour channels, you see a blended colour. And when you're looking at something with thousands of pixels you simply won't spot it.

So, stick your secret message in the low bits:

  RED      GREEN    BLUE
  11111XXX 00000XXX 00000XXX
You now get 9 bits of data per pixel. Or less (for a less noisy image) or more (for a more noisy image). For a 640x480 image, you now have 345.6KB of data. And if you use encrypted data, it won't even seem like data if someone looks (plausible deniability). Just noise.

Techniques like this were used on 4chan to hide child porn in high-resolution photographs. This the "mods are asleep, post hi-res" meme.

You don't get plausible deniability in any way.

Turns out that the least significant bits of a pixel are not uniformly distributed. The obvious example of failure is that you expect more pixels with value 255 than 254, since any overexposure will be stuck at 255. The rest is obvious when you look at a histogram of pixel values; as the number of LSBs used increases you see the curve become stepped.

LSB replacement steganography is easily detectable at about a ratio of about 0.01 bits per pixel. The smarter plan is to add or subtract 1 randomly (or do nothing) in order to match the LSB to what you want; this symmetry is harder to detect (but still very possible, the methods are just more complicated).

The reason you encrypt the data is not just for data security, it is so that the embedder does not have to worry about the data that they are embedding screwing everything up.

tl;dr LSB steganography does not give you any plausible deniability because it's really easy to detect in any type of image at very low embedding levels due to inherent limitations of the process. If you want to use it, you'd be safe with a single message at perhaps a level of 0.005 bits per pixel, but then in a ten megapixel image you'd get 150kB of data which hardly seems worth it when you have to transmit losslessly. Even then, you'd still be screwed at a theoretical level with Ker's square root law.

Ah, I see. I hadn't thought of the 255 issue, in hindsight that seems obvious.

Still, I think LSB replacement steganography is useful if only to provide an example of how it steganography can be done, even if it's not particularly sophisticated.

s/This the/Thus the/

These are products in use by the industry for video http://www.civolution.com/ http://www.vobileinc.com/technology/

How about a scheme where some selection of 16 shots throughout either are or aren't missing a single frame?

You could number 65k unique distributions that way and the overall length would rarely be affected by more than a frame or two.

It could be implemented with a pretty easy python script.

Speaking as a former film/tv editor, one frame here or there can definitely affect the pacing and feel of a scene. Yes, sometimes external constraints—broadcast formats, licensing issues—can force compromises, but it's still an artistic decision where to cut a frame and where to keep one.

Much better to adjust coloring slightly in central but low entropy parts of occasional, appropriate frames, sort of like Omron rings[1], but designed specifically to be visually inconspicuous while surviving encoding.

The newish CineFence supposedly does something like this. In any case it wouldn't be hard to improve on the horrible Deluxe code.[2]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EURion_constellation

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coded_Anti-Piracy

Now I'm eagerly awaiting a colorist jumping into this conversation to tell us why that would be unacceptable. (Agreed that it's probably less of an issue to encode data in color than timing, but it just strikes me as funny how we've passed the buck from programmer > editor > colorist)

Not very clever.

Get two leaked copies, and mix them up. Use the credits from copy A, or hell, even chop off 11 milliseconds from them. Then mix and match scenes... even chop off a few ms from some randomly selected scenes.

I bet you wouldn't even need the two copies.

Steganographic systems used for tracking screeners would have no problem identifying the two different sources you've used. They are robust against all sorts of attacks, timing changes and edits. Removing frames doesn't really affect this, since it's not doing dumb frame-by-frame matching. You'd have to degrade your audio and video to the point where they become unwatchable in order to remove the watermark.

Disclaimer: I used to work for one of the companies providing these systems.

Only if you knew that was already going on. Security by obscurity, but still, I don't believe this kind of watermarking was ever used.

Maybe something like Cinavia[1] could be used instead? It's an analog watermarking system for detecting pirated copies and refusing to play them if player detects such copy is played on something else than bluray disc. Apparently this survives transcoding, and was/is major pain for people ripping their discs for various reasons and trying to play the files on certified players.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinavia

Step 1: setup an automated setup for playing video and detecting if the output was detected via the watermarking system.

Step 2: Run the whole thing through an optimizer seeking to minimize error while not being detected.

Step 3: Wait a few hours.

Still, we are talking about one-shot solutions for big events, like this Game of Thrones release.

Obviously I can come up with anything and you would be able to present a strategy how to beat it. But that's not the point.

If this kind of various copyright protections become norm, people might actually be afraid to leak stuff, because you will never know how safe it is and what kind of protection you might run into. Even after analyzing spectrogram and generally watching the media multiple times, trying to find anything weird.

Well, obviously when you grab infinite number of watermarked copies, you might be able see where the irregularities are. But that's not how leaks happen.

This assumes you know the method they are using. As the post mentioned, a few milliseconds + or - at the end of a scene would not be noticeable and the overall timestamp would still be constant if "self-compensating offsets" were used.

So how many video frames do I lop off a scene to subtract "a few milliseconds" from it?

If it's 30fps, each frame is about 33ms. One or two is sufficient. Most films are 24fps, or 23.99 for some weird NTSC->film->NTSC reason.

You can figure out the method they are using by comparing two copies.

That's just a suggestion.

They could change the opening credits by 2ms. Or a specific scene.

They could even add a single extra sword 'clang' noise in part of the audio track on one single scene.

There are so many options.

I'd wager $10 this was done by an intern who can barely use email correctly.

"Get two leaked copies" Not sure I understand this.

I think this means 'gets two copies from sources who have been given their copies legitimately'. Your job is then to make sure that those two people can't be traced/identified by the watermark on/in the video.

Get two copies from two different sources, with different watermarks

> Get two leaked copies

this should be the biggest obstacle.

People seem to be ignoring one obvious solution: don't send out copies of the first four episodes of what is arguably the biggest and most-pirated show in the world. I get it, there are apparently still these "print publications" out there that need time to "print" their reviews. How important is that really, in 2015, for Game of Thrones? I doubt that a few reviews in pop culture magazines are worth more to HBO than preserving the desired experienced of weekly viewing.

Or maybe it's a trial run for HBO to gauge what viewers think of binge watching.

> and the only tracking set up HBO seemed to be a watermark in the bottom left corner of the screen.

If they only had the one obvious watermark, I think HBO was hoping that maybe the people getting the screeners would think that there is more than one way they had the video tracked. Either the person who uploaded didn't care, or didn't think about it.

Its worth noting HBO has been on a path to make content available on the internet even without Cable (HBO now). probably a good long term strategy. There are always people who want it sooner, and free!

This is why we can't have nice things..

While this is cool idea, how possible would it be to extend any particular scene by that short of a time? If the video is output at a typical 24 fps, the shortest any scene could be modified would be ~42 ms. Even with a lot of newer footage being filmed at 48 fps, it's still only able to clipped at a rate of 21 ms.

Past that, I've seen a small amount of time shifting take place during a not-so-careful re-encode. At 1 ms precision, even this would be enough to throw off such a tracking system.

Google cache URL, since the GitHub page is down: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ablog....

Why do we think the blur is sufficient? The blur loses information, but there are presumably a small number of watermarked versions, and a lot of frames. It's almost certainly possible for HBO to reverse-engineer the blur algorithm — I bet it's a stock option from a common tool — and then run it over all the originals and see which produces the best post-blur match.

What a terrible post. Every single example is simply security through obscurity. Once a leaker understands the ways in which a file may be watermarked, they will likely be able to circumvent it. An example of a watermarking method that does not fall apart when people know what to look for would make a very good article. This is not that article.

This person has no idea of how video production and editing works.

While everyone is thinking how awful this is for HBO, I wonder how much it will boost the future viewership not just of the reason but for the whole game of thrones show.

I imagine those who watched it early told all of their friends about the show, making them watch it too when it came out on TV.

I scanned these comments and didn't see any mention of it - I used to work for a company - http://www.teletrax.tv/ - that used Philips made hardware to encode video watermarks that were not easily detectable. We would then use detector hardware in the top (n) markets of the US and "detect" whenever some channel broadcast a watermarked piece of video. This was usually used to enforce things like Sony licensing you to show a movie of theirs (n) times over a given period of time. There's competitors in that space as well like Nielsen, etc. I am sure HBO is using more than just a visible watermark to track their content.

Even with a blurred watermark, the mark itself could be enough to pinpoint a source. At least if the watermark disappears and reappears several times in a video you could use the timestamps of its appearance and disappearance to indicate who was responsible for a leak.

There are similar approaches for software. See "Advanced Security Now" [1].

[1] - http://arxiv.org/abs/1006.2356

The chances of this leak not being steganographically watermarked are close to zero. The visible watermark is added as well as the invisible watermark just for the purposes of deterring screenshots.

This is just a wild guess, but the visible watermark could be the result of a legal issue. Having hidden tracking elements in such videos could require disclosing them, whereas a visible watermark could be used to argue that the viewer is aware of the video being marked and therefore other included tracking elements do not need to be specifically named.

It has the potential side-effect of the watermark getting blurred out by the leaker, but leaving other tracking pieces intact.

You're confusing eavesdropping law with tracking in general.

(You're probably thinking of the one party vs two party consent issue: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_recording_laws)

If I were to somehow create a Game of Thrones video file that "phones home", yes that would need to be disclosed.

If I want to add an invisible watermark to a video file and note who got the video with that watermark, that is legal.

I'm not sure you can vary video by anything other than full frames, so you would have to vary it in 33 ms chunks.

Also, editors would cringe at "varying the length of scenes".

It's crazy to muck around with timing, When things are quantised to frames you have very little scope for change without it being very noticeable.

There are a heap of image based ways to encode data. Kerning on the credits, Position of titling. Minor brightness colour tweaks.

The thing that springs to mind the most. THERE'S A FULLSCREEN WHITE NOISE EFFECT AT THE START OF THE SHOW. You could stick whatever you want in there.

What happened to the site? http://blog.frite-camembert.net/got-leak.html Now shows a generic 404 and http://blog.frite-camembert.net/ shows a github 404. Was the information DMCA'd?

It's hosted on github pages and I inadvertently deleted the CNAME file when updating the post: https://github.com/brunal/brunal.github.io/commit/89fd81f93d...

It took me ~20 minutes to realize it was gone, you probably tried to hit the page during that time frame.

Still works for me.

Also, the author seems to know nothing of steganography so HBO haven't had anything of consequence discovered by them.

I guess we all agree that watermarking the viewable content instead of thinking about securing/signing the whole data file was not so smart in the first place.

When I download a video from the Google Play Store I can only watch it for 24 hours or so. I thought there was already a highly protected digital signature/encryption system involved. Why is that not used for reporter previews?

Anything that is viewable cannot be secured.

The play store can stop you watching the content after 24 hours on the play store. It cannot possibly stop you recording your screen while it's playing and saving it forever

Preventing leaks is basically impossible, but making them traceable is possible using watermarks

Sounds quite reasonable, actually. Haven't thought about that. Thanks!

I'm surprised they just send out DVDs with content... HBO have a streaming service, creating a preview section shouldn't be hard. Up to reporters to get a decent connection to stream...

The problem with least significat bit approaches mentioned by others is that they don't survive through re-encoding very well. A much better way of watermarking IMHO would be to add features (could be patterns, even images or text) in Fourier space- imperceptible if done correctly, and guaranteed to survive through encodings.

Perhaps the author should have a look here: [1] and note that transmitting a message over the air in an undetectable way, and embedding a watermark are roughly the same thing.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spread_spectrum

Nothing based on time is as simple as this article implies. When movies are ripped, they tend to have slight adjustments in playback speed as a side effect, and not necessarily at a constant rate; it can result in a total language change of a couple seconds. Any playback type analysis needs to be based on frames.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact