• A Bowditch and M Bacina

Arrrrrg-us: Microsoft Proposes New Anti-Pirate System

The incentive-based system relies on blockchain technology to protect intellectual property rights.


Technology giant Microsoft have proposed using the transparency of blockchain technology as a potential solution to fight digital piracy. In a collaborative paper with Alibaba Group and Carnegie Mellon University, Microsoft have suggested a fully transparent incentive system called Argus (we assume pronounced Arrrrrrr-gus) which will operate on the Ethereum network. Microsoft also utilised the Ethereum blockchain last year to create a Baseline protocol.


Anti-piracy relies on collecting data from an open and anonymous population of whistleblowers, so incentivising credible reports is part of the challenge for incentivizing reports. The paper identifies a lack of transparency with respect to incentive, fairness and credibility-criteria as the major limitations of current anti-piracy campaigns.


Argus, on the other hand, is underpinned by blockchain technology and remedies these issues by leveraging the technology to provide a trustless incentive-based system. This allows anonymity for piracy reporters at the same time as leveraging the transparency of public blockchain systems. Microsoft has been ahead of the curb with respect to digital assets having accepted Bitcoin as payment in 2014 and, more recently, adding it as a currency on its Excel platform.


Argus is built on four pillars: full transparency, incentive, information hiding and optimisation. When an owner of a product distributes content to licensees, each copy is embedded with a unique hash known as a watermark. The paper assumes the watermark cannot be removed without significant damage to the content. This watermark allows the content to be traced back to the original source of infringement.


The incentive component of the system is predicated on aligning the interests of the owner and informers. Owners seek good-faith reports regarding pirated material while informers generally seek financial rewards. To consolidate these interests, Argus rewards informers more for timely reports, provides guaranteed amounts and prevents Sybil attacks (where the informer uses multiple forged identities to claim a higher reward).


To address concerns about Ethereum 'gas' network fees, the Argus will be bundling transactions to incur 'only a negligible on-chain cost equivalent to sending 14 ETH-transfer transactions per report on the public Ethereum blockchain'.


This project represents a fascinating blend of privacy and public information using blockchain to tackle a really serious and ongoing software problem.