Amazon Patents Technology to Track Down Streaming Pirates

5 mins read

Amazon is not just the largest e-commerce retailer, the company also has a significant copyright portfolio.

In recent years the company has increased its anti-piracy efforts, both individually and as a member of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment.

The company has booked some successes but copyright infringement remains a challenge. As with other streaming platforms, virtually every Amazon title is pirated shortly after its release.

Amazon’s New Patent

With a newly obtained patent, the company hopes to make it easier to find people who leak their content. The invention titled “encoding identifiers into customized manifest data” can be used for various purposes but copyright enforcement is high on the list.

In short, Amazon proposes a technology to add unique identifiers to streaming video. While these types of ‘watermarks’ are not new, Amazon’s implementation is.

Tracking Down Pirates

The patent description is highly technical but when we focus on the anti-piracy application it becomes clear how Amazon envisions using it. The company itself provides an illustrated example of a ‘pirating’ subscriber who records a copy of its series “The Tick.”

The subscriber in question has a unique identifier (ID:1011). When this person plays the video, Amazon generates customized manifest data (126) based on this ID. This is used as input for the Fire TV player (124) which requests video data based on the data and decodes the video fragments from the media server (122).

When the subscriber records the video, with an HD camera in this example, this includes a code or mark that points back to the manifest data.

“However, unbeknownst to user 102, a pattern of version information 110 is encoded into at least some of the content fragments (e.g., 112-118) identified by customized manifest data 126 and is recoverable as a version pattern 132 that can identify user 102 as the source of the recorded episode,” Amazon writes.

The identification code can be clearly visible but it can also be invisible. That can be useful to make it hard for pirates to remove these identifiers.


“It is desirable in some implementations that the overlay representing version information be imperceptible to the human eye,” Amazon writes.

“Not only does that make it more difficult for content pirates to detect, alter, remove, or otherwise defeat the overlay, it ensures that the quality of the video content being marked with a version identifier is not significantly degraded.”

Without going too deep into the technical details, it is clear that Amazon is trying to find and possibly implement advanced technologies to track pirating users. These technologies already exist, but can be quite resource-intensive.

Instead of encoding the identifier or watermark in the video content, Amazon proposes to add it to the manifest data. As a result, Amazon’s solution can be more easily applied at the individual level. This can be useful to protect content on Amazon’s own streaming service, but other rightsholders may want to use it as well.

Works on Live Content Too

The company specifically mentions live streaming content, such as NFL matches including the Super Bowl. These live broadcasts can be played with individual marks, but they can also carry more general information such as people’s location.

“It should be noted that the term customized manifest data is not limited to the level of specificity corresponding to individual persons or devices as described in the anti-piracy context.

“For example, for an NFL broadcast scenario, customized manifest data might be a level of specificity based on geography,” the patent reads.

According to Amazon, its solution may also avoid the need for client-side watermarking on the user’s playback device, which is another advantage.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon already uses this technology but the company’s intentions are obvious; make it possible to track pirating subscribers. That said, ‘watermarking’ is not new and thus far it hasn’t stopped many pirates, so how effective it will be remains to be seen.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.