How to discourage piracy amongst a small community?
March 22, 2010 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Seeking ideas for discouraging piracy of a DVD which has a small potential audience of only a few thousand, well-connected people.

A friend has just made his first proper video production of an amateur motor racing competition in Australia. There are four major meets each year, and he is hoping to sell a DVD of each directly to many of the competitors. Nobody has tried to do this before.

He is already well known in the particular racing community, has excellent marketing opportunities (he operates the biggest relevant online social networking / forum in Australia) and has a good-looking online storefront. His earlier 2-minute YouTube videos were very well-received, which encouraged him to purchase much better equipment and dedicate much more time to editing a professional-looking production, complete with driver interviews, onscreen results tables, legally-sourced music, etc. Having seen his all-but-completed first DVD we are very confident that it will completely exceed most people's expectations.

My big concern, however, is that whilst most of the racing community will be very impressed by it, and will be very keen to watch the DVDs, they won't necessarily feel compelled to pay for them...

There is a photographer who makes a decent living by selling CDs of photos of competitors at each meeting. But the photographer creates individual CDs, so that the only way for a person to see lots of photos of themselves is to buy a CD. Creating individual DVDs isn't practical, so my friend is going to have to try and sell the same DVD to everybody, many of whom are going to be quite good friends. And because it takes a lot of time for one person to create a snappy hour-long package from three days worth of footage, there is going to be an inevitable two-week delay between the race meeting and the DVD being available.

There are enough competitors -- with more than enough disposable income -- who will really enjoy the DVDs that this should be a success. But obviously if a sizeable proportion of the competitors choose to wait until a mate burns them a copy of the DVD, a segment turns up on YouTube or a full-length torrent appears, then my friend might not sell enough DVDs to make it worth his effort. And then there simply won't be any more DVDs made.

In short I'm convinced that as a group the motor racing community will really want my mate to earn enough money to want to keep making more DVDs. But I'm not sure how he should best encourage each of them individually to do the right thing.

If Hollywood can't find a technological solution for this problem my mate certainly won't be able to. So I suspect his best hope is to appeal to people's honesty. But I'd be very keen to hear any suggestions of how best to go about this.
posted by puffmoike to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Put a big scary looking message on each DVD case and physical DVD that says "The program on this DVD has an embedded piracy tracking signal which is registered with Interpol. Unauthorized duplication, broadcast, or re-distribution will be traced to the original purchaser of this copy of this DVD, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Of course, there's no code. This doesn't actually do anything other than possibly make someone think twice about idly ripping the DVD.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:36 AM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

One solution might be for your friend to give a certain percentage of profits to charity, and feature something on the DVDs that mentions this. That way, there's an extra moral hurdle to piracy.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:38 AM on March 22, 2010

There are various DVD copy-protection mechanisms out there that are meant to thwart so-called "casual copying" by regular users. They're expensive to license (they're targeted towards big-name studios) and all it takes is one person with a copy of AnyDVD to get around the protection and make copies. I think appealing to people's honesty is the best way to go. Emphasize that this is a hobby and not a commercial venture. People will get the idea.
posted by zsazsa at 10:42 AM on March 22, 2010

Here's how I'd go about it:

Put the entire video production on YouTube or Vimeo so that people can watch it (albeit at lower quality) for free. This emphasizes that he's is looking to give back to the community, not just to make a quick buck.

Then, make sure that the actual DVD package has some sort of value-added. Snappy packaging, maybe a poster or a motorcycle decal or something. Make the physical DVD something that people want to own, want to have sitting on their shelves.

This leaves people little reason to bother pirating the DVD, while leaving them plenty of reason to want to buy it. And it has the added bonus that the full-length production being available for free online will almost certainly draw some attention from racing enthusiasts elsewhere in the world. The potential audience might be larger than your friend thinks.
posted by 256 at 10:43 AM on March 22, 2010 [15 favorites]

I'd go the opposite direction from dirtdirt: put a disclaimer on the front thanking the person for supporting the sport and the guy who made the DVD possible by purchasing the disc. With their continued support, they can look foward to seeing another DVD release next year. Then mention the website to direct people there to see more content. This works especially well on people who know that any threats of FBI/Interpol involvement is just bullshit guilt-tripping and assumption of bad faith from the creator.

I dislike being accused of being a pirate when I purchase a DVD, especially as the pirated version would have this part excised.

/this is all personal preference, but I know in the UK they went from "Piracy = stealing! Don't steal, you filthy thief!"-adverts to ones where a celebrity plainly thanks the cinema audience for supporting their art.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:45 AM on March 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

256 and slimepuppy have it.

dirtdirt's suggestion is condescending to potential purchasers as well as insulting their intelligence.
posted by dobbs at 10:46 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Include $5 (or whatever) off coupons with the DVDs, and mention that they should be passed on to interested parties. That gives 'mates' an incentive to go direct to your friend rather than obtain what they want under the table.
posted by carsonb at 10:52 AM on March 22, 2010


1) Make the physical artifact something people might want. Try to turn it into a collector's item. Maybe bundle it with stuff.
2) Chalk up any "pirated" copies as free advertising for next year or for the website.
3) Get as many people as you can to pre-order on the day of the race.
posted by callmejay at 10:57 AM on March 22, 2010

This is the 21st century. You can't make people pay for data.

The problem your friend faces isn't a copy protection problem; it's a usability problem. In a lot of cases, it's simply easier to obtain and watch pirated video than it would be to buy the physical disk. Your friend's task should be to make it so incredibly easy for his customers to give him money for the product that they won't even bother with piracy. Some ideas:

- Offer the DVD for sale online, and make sure that your online store is super easy to use (no unnecessary signups, no weird payment schemes).
- Make the packaging of the DVD itself something desirable. (People like to collect things, put them on their shelves, share them with friends.)
- Consider offering a downloadable version of the video at a lower price, something close to what the regular price of the DVD is plus bandwidth costs, minus the cost of manufacturing the DVD; make it as easy as possible to click a button that says "Download now for $n" and start the download immediately.
- Consider offering the video online for free (at a lower resolution, maybe?), in addition to selling the physical DVD; use the free video as a way to use a tool like Kickstarter to raise funds for the next video.
- Sell other kinds of merchandise that can't be (as easily) copied, like t-shirts.
posted by aparrish at 10:59 AM on March 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't know if dirtdirt is serious or not, but treating the paying audience as potential criminals is exactly the kind of stuff which hasn't worked out for the studios, and should someone actually take that fake warning seriously, the OPs friend might suddenly find himself at the prodding end of the privacy-advocate stick, which would only aggravate everyone.

If the guy is running the biggest community and whatnots, he's in an excellent position to actually put forth what puffmoike has alluded to here: This is what it costs for me to produce this video, and for me to continue to do so I'd need to sell this many copies for this much money, please buy if you like it.

Also, I'd argue that piracy in itself isn't the problem; It becomes a problem if it cuts into the sales (Of course, it's difficult to make comparative studies of what percentage of piracy cuts into sales, but the argument is valid regardless) so instead of trying to catch people before they pirate, catch them if they pirate, like the thing, and have the means to pay for it.

How about engaging his community? If he's running a forum he ought to know who the power-users are. Why not ask them what would make them pay for this, and/or explain his situation and thinking to them? If they come aboard they'll be advocates in the community, encouraging others to pay for what they like (if they are financially able to, as you allude to — broke people will pirate regardless) and create a connection that way?

Anecdotally, I'm a hoarder and download stuff all the time, but whenever someone has reached out to me with a "this is what it costs us in time and money" they are bumped up the list of people I ought to pay for being awesome. (You can argue that this puts creators at level with someone begging for alms, thereby depreciating the work they are doing, but I see it rather as a technological adaptation…)

On preview: What 256 & slimepuppy wrote. I need to type faster…
posted by monocultured at 11:01 AM on March 22, 2010

But obviously if a sizeable proportion of the competitors choose to wait until a mate burns them a copy of the DVD, a segment turns up on YouTube or a full-length torrent appears, then my friend might not sell enough DVDs to make it worth his effort.

On YouTube you can always report unauthorized videos to have them taken down, Google has a fairly straight-forward system for doing that. Also, a DVD obscure Australian racing events is probably not going to end up on a torrent site. The groups that rip Hollywood DVDs or even capture more mainstream sporting events aren't going to touch it, so you only really have to worry about someone buying the DVD being savvy enough to rip it and add it to a public tracker, and then other people finding and downloading it, which seems very unlikely for such a small non-techy group. The friend-to-friend copying scenario is much more likely.

One of the classic ways to get people to buy something rather than get a copy from a friend is to include physical stuff along with the DVD. In this case a nice booklet or something with info about the competitors might be nice. Also, since he's running a forum it should be pretty easy to make an appeal for people to actually buy it rather than copy it in order to support the project and future ones.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:07 AM on March 22, 2010

Thanks for all the great answers in such a short amount of time!

Couple of quick clarifications:
  1. Hopefully this will be a money-making venture. No doubt he'll enjoy aspects of making the DVDs, but at other times it will be pretty tedious. Creating and maintaining the website has essentially been "giving back to the sport", but at some point he has to earn a living.
  2. He'd much rather appeal to people's good nature (and/or the community's self-interest) than to try and scare them with scarcely-believable threats.
With respect to 256's suggestion as much as I'd like for this approach to work -- and as much as I enjoy watching other people's work that they made freely available on Vimeo and YouTube -- I can't help but think that no matter how good the packaging and any extras he puts in might be the main product is the video production (if he were to have extras of real value then he'd have to recoup those costs by making the DVDs more expensive). If the production was freely available online in its entirety then I can't imagine I'd buy the DVD. Is anybody aware of an instance where such an approach was successful?

On preview:
Arghh, I can't keep up! So many great suggestions, with subtle variations I hadn't considered, that are coming in. Time for me to go to bed, but I'll check back in in the morning. Thank you all so much.
posted by puffmoike at 11:12 AM on March 22, 2010

Poison the pirate well.

Before your friend releases the DVD, create a version that contains the first 30 minutes of the actual racing DVD proper, followed by the rest of it with the video being alternately cycled to extreme gamma ranges, color inverted, grayscale and ROTATING in alignment (upside down, bottom to left, bottom to right, etc.) and the audio alternately silent/pegged at max levels with white noise, all the while having a scrolling ticker at the bottom that says "You'd like to watch a quality production. We'd like to get paid for our work and continue to support (X) racing. Clean copies available for a reasonable price at" where is obviously the site selling the DVD.

The day your friend releases the DVD for sale, start up a torrent at the major torrent trackers with the "spiked" version of the DVD. Get a whole bunch of mates to help seed it, so it looks like a well supported "release".
posted by de void at 11:37 AM on March 22, 2010

burnmp3s: The friend-to-friend scenario is just as likely as uploading to a torrent site: The stepping stone is ripping the DVD, not uploading to torrent / DC / Rapidshare; And even that stone is mostly a gravel path by now…

It's not a question whether it's easy to get a takedown from Youtube or not, it's to get the people who like the video to pay for the thing.

I'm not big on owning physical objects, so nice sleeves and such doesn't do much for me. A feeling that I'm actually paying the person to keep doing something which I'd appreciate is a motivating factor though; Sometimes, I've actually not bothered buying something because I have nowhere to store the bloody thing, and I'd much rather "pay for" the illegal download I already have (which must be someones wet dream of an audience…) So a five dollar or whatever tip-jar for those of my disposition would have worked wonders for your friends project… Now, you'd want to make certain that those who can pay more for the thing, but that's where diversifying the products would come in handy. What you lose on the whatnots, you recoup on the thingies, sort of thing.

And even though this is all left up to the "consumer" and your friend loses the ability to limit access (which he doesn't have regardless, as aparrish notes) I don't think that all people would mind him making a living off of this. Saying that he'd like to make a 500% profit (or whatever he'd like) on the project will rub some people the wrong way, but hopefully enough will understand that this is what is required to make a living off of something…

What I'm saying is that there's no moral "right" territory here, but rather the rules and adaptations are improvised all the time… Exciting times for creatives…

On preview: If I'd encounter a spiked copy as de void suggests, I'd actually go to lengths to spite you, and think you an asshole… Then again, the notion that one ought to be proactive is sound — why not be the first to seed a torrent and get a message across, instead of doing damage-control afterwards?
posted by monocultured at 11:41 AM on March 22, 2010

I think the "this is a small operation and I need to cover my costs" appeal is worth incorporating.

I also think that giving people something difficult to pirate as an incentive is also worth trying. This need not be deluxe packaging or something like that—it could be a code for logging in to a website where you'd offer, say, advance rough cuts of the next DVD. Obviously that's not piracy-proof either, but I believe it could be set up in a way that limits people passing it around (or even turns pass-around recipients into customers, if you're good).
posted by adamrice at 12:06 PM on March 22, 2010

Take the risks now, reap the benefits later.

I'm going to agree with 256 and monocultured. As a content creator who hates seeing vast amounts of amazing production work revenue go down the web-quality drain, there's really no better option than providing full (albeit lesser-quality'd) copies and behind-the-scenes footage as a means to drive the sales of the physical copies.

Being a creative myself, I'm much more impressed by the person's business savvy and ability to let go of the pride we all have in creating something like this in order to be seen by more people and ultimately drive up DVD sales or at least visits to the website (which you can then add Google Ads, etc. to).

Ramp people up, get a blog going with hi-res imagery depending on how often shots are taken. Create a subscription-based site for people who want to see the rest of that day's set for riders, their families, enthusiasts and fellow photographers/videographers. Create all sorts of hoopla around the video itself by releasing it on YouTube and Vimeo (bonus points for posting it on various related website forums) and make sure to forward everyone via the descriptions or on-screen annotations to visit the site for more [everything].

Right now, everyone wants bigger and better for less. If you feed your fanbase now, they can only multiply your revenue in the future. The internet-at-large does really well with this sort of thing, passing it along to hundreds if not thousands of people at a time faster than a wildfire.

They are also an incredibly generous group of people who, when it only takes two clicks, can surprise you with unexpected cash flow. It's just as easy to set up a donation button as it is to create a page to buy the DVD with all of its pretty print accessories.

Like, monocultured, I'm not big into having physical copies of things like this anymore. If I'm going to buy something physical for the artwork, I'd be more willing to buy larger-scale prints of just that, as opposed to DVD-sized inserts, so keep that possibility in mind as well.

I know this isn't what you want to hear, but this is much more likely to bring attention to the video and your friend's skillset while dampening negative feedback, especially the notion that your friend is only after making a quick buck.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2010

.. because hell hath no fury like an internet that has to buy something!!!!
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:24 PM on March 22, 2010

I'll nth "appeal to people's better nature" approach. If he's well-known in the community, including a note from him inside the package that says:

"Thanks for buying my film, etc. If this works out, I'll do this again next year, etc.

Your buddy,

posted by Pants! at 12:30 PM on March 22, 2010

If the production was freely available online in its entirety then I can't imagine I'd buy the DVD. Is anybody aware of an instance where such an approach was successful?

Anecdotally (and speaking in the realm of books, not videos), the sales of the print edition of my novella surged in the weeks following the release of the complete text online for free under a Creative Commons license. In the end, I would guess that my publisher ended up selling three to four times as many total copies as they could have hoped to otherwise, peddling a limited edition novella.

There's more information about this here (again from the book side of things):

Information is trivially easy to distribute. You're not going to be able to stop it. The best policy is to enjoy the advantages of the increased exposure. Between that and engaging your audience frankly about your desire to get paid for your contribution, you would be surprised at how willing people are to loosen their purse strings to encourage endeavours they appreciate.
posted by 256 at 12:43 PM on March 22, 2010

Wait to see if someone puts a torrent up. Once you see that, put the full thing online yourself, but put text across the screen that mentions how much time it takes to put these videos together, and if they want to continue seeing them, they should purchase the DVD. Make sure that the text covers enough of the screen to make it appealing to purchase the DVD. Keep the text going throughout the entire video. This way, people won't think you are trying to be spiteful, but you know that anyone who is watching the torrent will think about buying it. If that doesn't get them to pay for it, they wouldn't have paid for it anyway.
posted by markblasco at 12:52 PM on March 22, 2010

Then, make sure that the actual DVD package has some sort of value-added. Snappy packaging, maybe a poster or a motorcycle decal or something.

Or, a T-shirt or button/badge. Something with a simple but visually striking logo for the DVD/person that they would like to wear, that would make other people point and say "hey, what's that?" One can get a logo put on anything fairly cheaply these days.

Also, your friend could consider selling adspace, either an actual video ad within the DVD itself or a small square on the back of the DVD packaging or a insert/flyer (or several) that can be removed and tossed in the bin when the buyer opens the case for the first time (This DVD was made possible thanks to Bob's Bikes located in.....).
posted by K.P. at 1:00 PM on March 22, 2010

Look, Some people will steal it and that's that. They're likely not going to pay for it - unless it's priced at such a level that they think "no big deal."

I'd put one on youtube (or a shorter version) as a part of the long tail effect to get interested parties a 'taste' of it.

But here's the catch: Get the initial item out there and collect the names/email addresses. B

e clear in the marketing and sales that ONLY those people who bought disc 1 can buy disc 2 at a HUGE AMAZING DISCOUNT. And then, give them that discount.

Make it so the first purchase gives them a gateway into future CHEAP purchases.

New customers pay for cost. Repeat customers are profit.
posted by filmgeek at 1:02 PM on March 22, 2010

The friend-to-friend scenario is just as likely as uploading to a torrent site: The stepping stone is ripping the DVD, not uploading to torrent / DC / Rapidshare; And even that stone is mostly a gravel path by now…

It would be interesting to see some actual statistics on this sort of thing, but I still think that p2p file sharing is unlikely in this case. It sounds like this particular form of racing has a limited fan base, so not only would one of the fans who pays to buy to DVD need to upload it to a torrent site, but a significant number of other people would need to go to that same torrent site and search for it. Or in the case of rapidshare, they would need to post the links on a forum of some kind where people who would be interested in seeing it would be, but where posting rapidshare links is allowed (almost all forums will delete those kinds of links). I would guess that if you did a search on most torrent sites for similarly obscure racing DVDs you wouldn't get very many hits, most of the content on p2p sites is much more mainstream.

The day your friend releases the DVD for sale, start up a torrent at the major torrent trackers with the "spiked" version of the DVD. Get a whole bunch of mates to help seed it, so it looks like a well supported "release".

This method never works and would be a massive waste of time. Once someone downloads it and finds that it's fake/full of crazy errors, they'll just report it and it will get pulled (even public trackers have decent quality control systems). Also, you'll basically be advertising your DVD on torrent sites, which seems like it would be the opposite of the intended effect.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:30 PM on March 22, 2010

Sell it in Blu-Ray only format. That's much harder to pirate for the casual pirate due to file sizes. Keep in mind that nothing will prevent a motivated individual from copying it.

Put a low-res copy online.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:53 PM on March 22, 2010

Sell it in Blu-Ray only format. That's much harder to pirate for the casual pirate due to file sizes.

It will also greatly reduce sales given that blu ray sales are still around 15% of dvd sales (in the US at least, not sure about Australia). And I assume production costs would be higher as well.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:04 PM on March 22, 2010

burnmp3s: Yeah, I agree that a moderated forum might toss out any Rapidshare links (And isn't Australia about to block filedump sites? Or am I thinking of the UK?) but my point was that if I wanted to send my friend a largish video, I'd likely do it using the same tools as I would if I wanted to share it with the world; A dumpsite, ftp or torrent. The difference wouldn't be in the technological know-how, but rather my and my friends intent of not spreading it and keeping mum.

This is different if we're sneakernetting, but to do a rip is more of a pain than uploading it somewhere, was my point.

Agreed, compressing a DVD is too much bother for most people, but you only need one person with access and inclination; So it might be a completist or hamster who happens on the DVD by chance, through a partner or relative or whatever, and who has no connection to the community nor consideration for the creator. Weakest link, so to speak. Just look at even the public torrent sites and consider how the oddest, most obscure stuff is available because someone felt the itch for whatever reason.

Some people are motivated by completely other things than are easily imagined. Check out Confessions of a book pirate, linked and discussed from this post on the blue for some insight into one motivating force of piracy. From my time on Hotline & KDX before bittorrent took over, I know that many people put enormous effort into digitalizing material, enjoying the debate over the finer points of multimedia taxonomy more than the material itself.

None of this is a solution to your friend, but perhaps a clue to where not to spend too much energy and time…

Of course, technology is a hinderance for some people; It's not like all information is automatically accesible to everyone even if there is a digital copy online. But if your business model hinges on the technological ignorance of a sufficient number of punters, I would hedge my bets…
posted by monocultured at 5:49 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll vote "skippable(!) appeal at the beginning". I've seen a bunch of those, and usually the reminder that you're ripping off a person instead of shareholders and corporate overlords trumps "information must be freed" considerations.
posted by themel at 5:14 AM on March 23, 2010

Thanks to all MeFi's for an excellent discussion.

I could mark every answer as best answer, but I think I'll leave them all unmarked, in recognition that there probably isn't one approach that clearly trumps all others. (Has MetaTalk ever resolved what to do is such situations? - don't answer that and derail my thread!)

Both my mate and I have read over this discussion a couple of times now, and it's given us lots of food for thought. FWIW the general consensus seems to be in the direction we were heading anyway, but we'll tweak what we were thinking of doing and adopt or adapt some of the ideas presented.

posted by puffmoike at 7:07 PM on March 23, 2010

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