Copy Protection: Is it Worth the Investment?

From the days of analog videotape copy protection by Macrovision, to the bounty of today’s video copy protection options, there seems to be as many ways to break video copy protection as to prevent it. What’s a video producer to do?

The first things a video producer needs to ask is: do I really need or want it, does it work and what are the costs? We all want to prevent others from duplicating and selling our work, taking potential income from us; or do we? Creating a video project for major commercial distribution is entirely different from using video copy protection on one or a few wedding videos that may backfire, taking you from some referrals to none because you didn’t want to lose a $20 DVD sale.

When to Say No

Be realistic about copy protecting your video productions. What is the value of your online video snippet, website sample clip, demo DVD or swap-and-share moments with fellow video producers, against the risk of your video copyright being violated? Do you watermark it all, often detracting from the quality in the interest of keeping others from using it? Do you spend the money to incorporate a copy protection scheme of some kind, only to find that the protection doesn’t work at all?

In the real world of event and wedding video production, copy protection may serve no real advantage, offer no guarantees and not result in a significant boost in sales. If it’s a matter of principle, that’s another thing.

On the Other Hand

You do have the right to protect what you’ve created, to prevent others from ripping you off. Again, at what cost? Readily available copy protection options or controls for online videos, software key copy protection or firmware options offered in some duplicators might be good enough for your purposes.

If your production is intended for mass commercial distribution, of course you’d want to identify a copy protection scheme that might reduce piracy and illegal duplication. However, as fast as video copy protection solutions come on the market, it seems the anti-copy protection community comes up with a way around them.

How does copy protection work?

Colorful world map showing different regions and their area’s code
Colorful world map showing different regions and their area’s code
Video copy protection for disc production starts as simple as the region code where video discs are encoded with information that prevents them from playing anywhere but a specific area; the United States is in Region Code 1. Region Code 6 is China. Normally, a region 1 disc would not play on a unit purchased in China, nor would a region 6 DVD play on a unit in the U.S. There are players that will play them all.

There are possible options via software code keys or built-in firmware components that help keep honest people honest. Your average hobbyist isn’t going to be held at bay long, though.

Duplicated discs, what you produce on your computer or using a duplication tower are convenient and relatively affordable. Replicated DVDs are created from a glass master. Most replication facilities offer copy protection options. While per-unit cost for replication is relatively inexpensive, the minimum production numbers often exceed what most video producers need for their event video clients. The copy protection option might be a deal breaker. What video copy protection scheme works? What video copy protection doesn't work? Will any of them prevent piracy?

Video Copy Protection Methods

Colorful world map showing different regions and their area’s code
Screengrab of coding options worldwide
Region Code Enhanced, keeps a disc that played in one region from playing in another, even if the person was using a multi-region system. Physical and software workarounds, however, quickly rendered this copy protection far from foolproof.

Macrovision, now Rovi Corporation, created Analog Protection System that garbled the signal from tape to a DVD recorder, rendering the copy useless. This isn’t easily broken by consumer level systems.

Content Scramble System (CSS) is used on most all commercial DVDs. It is capable of being broken.

User Operation Prohibition puts code on video discs that attempts to prevent the end-user from bypassing previews, advertising or other elements on a commercially-produced DVD. Essentially not copy protection, it can control the user experience.

Sony’s Advanced Regional Copy Control Operating Solution, used with CSS, purposely generates bad sectors, causing copy programs to create errors. A slew of programs are available that will break this.

Analog CPS is intended to prevent DVD/VCR combination units from creating a viewable DVD. Cheap devices are available to defeat this. A colorstripe element shores up this video copy protection system against some devices.

As fast as video copy protection solutions come on the market, it seems the anti-copy protection community comes up with a way around them.

Copy Generation Management System is a serial copy creation management system that attempts to prevent the first copy as well as copies of copies and is embedded into the playback video signal. Exactly how well the prevention works is based on the hardware. If the unit will honor the encoded data, it will show a message saying the disc cannot be copied.

Content Protection for Recordable Media matches media with recorder. Protected content recorded onto a disc is encrypted with a cipher generated by a media identification tag. The media-specific player decrypts the content and plays it. If it is copied, the missing key renders the disc unplayable.

Digital Copy Protection System generates digital indicators that allow for copying at will, making a single copy, or limiting the number of copies that can be generated. It is built into the hardware of players and systems. Encryption is performed by the player.

Online Video Copy Protection

Colorful world map showing different regions and their area’s code
Vimeo privacy setting options
Most online video allows users to temporarily transfer the file to their computer, making it easy to acquire a copy and duplicate it at will. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube constantly strive to develop ways to prevent this. A draw at best. If quality isn’t an issue, there are ways to copy anything playing on a screen.

Watermarking might help, or not, depending on the intent of the end user. This is especially true with video content or information rather than entertainment. Some are willing to sacrifice visual quality for information. You can often allow or block video downloading. Most video sharing sites have controls that prevent or allow embedding. Privacy settings can control access to your video, however, the impulse of others to share might render that option moot, and still allow video piracy.

Unlisted video is available, allowing access only to those with whom you share the link. Unlisted video can be shared with non-YouTube account holders, while private video requires an account.

Protect, or Not

Ask yourself if your content has commercial value. Does it represent more than just the fact you created it? Is it self-defeating to have content that others need to see to evaluate, but by keeping it out of the hands of abusers, what if nobody can access it? But then you’ve worked hard and long to create an entertainment masterpiece, quality instructional video or a video of significant value. Will protecting that video effectively increase unit sales or will sales become a steeper hill to climb? How do you feel about using a copy protection scheme? Video copy protection is important to us all. It is important to protect our creative and intellectual property. But at what cost?


Why should I care about copyright?

The federal government tells us that our work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and “fixed in a tangible form” (read video) that is directly perceptible or that can be viewed using a machine or device. We are told, however, that if we want to enter litigation for infringement of that copyrighted work we’ll have to register it. How does that work? Registration makes the fact of the copyright a part of public record. It provides for issuance of a certificate of registration. And, says the copyright website, “if registration occurs within five years of publication it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.” That is the key phrase, evidence that will hold up your copyright claim in the event of a lawsuit. The site warns that there is no provision in copyright law that allows sending a copy of your own work to yourself as a substitute for official registration. Works that were originally created on or after January 1, 1978 are automatically protected from the moment of creation and ordinarily has a term of the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after death. For multiple authors, joint works last for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death.

You can apply for copyright registration online and it is the one way you will be notified that your application was received. There’s also a lower filing fee for online registration. Paper applications are not recommended. For current fee information you can check the Copyright Office website or call (202) 707-3000 or 877-476-0778.

Contributing editor Earl Chessher is a veteran career journalist, independent video producer and author of video marketing and production books.

Colorful world map showing different regions and their area’s code[/caption]

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