PhD - Pirates of the Film Industry

Hannes Mareen (IDLab-MEDIA) successfully defended his PhD on March 24, 2021. The defense was held in an entirely virtual setting. The thesis was supervised by Prof. Peter Lambert and Prof. Glenn Van Wallendael. The title of the PhD thesis is “Pirates of the Film Industry: The Curse of the Forensic Watermark”.

PhD Thesis Summary

If you want to watch a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, you can quickly find dozens of illegal versions on websites such as The Pirate Bay. Forensic watermarking offers a solution to combat such digital piracy. That is, legitimate users receive a video with a unique watermark that identifies them. When a legitimate user is malicious and they illegally leak their watermarked video on the internet, they can be identified using the watermark.

However, existing forensic watermarking techniques have three flaws or curses. First, they often lack robustness, which means that pirates can remove the watermark. Second, existing methods lower the visual quality. Third, there are problems with scalability: it is often unrealistically expensive to watermark in a system with a large number of users.

This doctoral thesis tackles these three curses. In general, the proposed techniques exploit the side effects of video compression. In this way, films can be protected in a better and more practical way.

Title slide The title slide of the PhD defense, which sets the mood of the pirate-themed presentation


A recording of the defense can be watched below (or by clicking here). The high-level, pirate-themed presentation starts at 05:27. The presentation is in English, about 40 minutes long and is clearly understandable for a non-expert audience.

In the end of the recording, at 01:18:44, the chair of the examination board announced the final decision. The jury unanimously decided to grant Hannes Mareen the academic degree of Doctor in Computer Science Engineering.

An electronic version of the thesis (197 pages, 61 MB) can be found here or here. The thesis includes a Dutch and English summary, as well as a high-level English summary at the beginning of every chapter.

Cover The cover of Hannes Mareen’s PhD thesis


The presented work previously resulted in the following publications, grouped according to the three curses of the forensic watermark:

1. Fallback Watermarking for Improved Robustness

2. Rate-Distortion-Preserving Watermarking

3. Scalable Watermarking

Moreover, the work resulted in the following awards: