Sending access to videos that expire after a certain time
December 1, 2021 4:41 PM   Subscribe

I sell a product that involves a two time use of a video. Historically, I’ve traveled with the video in question, played it myself, then taken it with me when I left. Is there a way for me to give clients access to the video for a certain time, limiting their ability to save or copy the file, and have access expire after a while?

In my imagination this would be similar to how Netflix allows me to rent a video for a few days after which I don’t have access. Happy to pay for this service. Selling the video outright to clients is not an option (for legal issues).
posted by arnicae to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Professional video-hosting services typically provide options for controlling access to videos. For instance, it looks like Vidyard allows you to do anything from time-limited access codes to a full-blown single-sign-on integration. (Never used their service, not endorsing it.)

Maybe this goes without saying, but if you give a technically-savvy person access to play a video on their own device, there's no way to prevent them from saving a copy. At best you can make it slightly or moderately difficult. The big players like Netflix can afford to spend millions of dollars a year on a never-ending DRM arms race, but most smaller services will make at best a token effort at copy protection.
posted by teraflop at 5:00 PM on December 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Vimeo has some paid levels that will manage access for you, but (as @teraflop suggested) with any video I can view and hear, I can point my cell phone at the screen and record it.
posted by at at 6:43 PM on December 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

After trying to track down some special interest documentaries I realized that the filmmakers basically traveled with their tape and never allowed it to be online anywhere.

I also recall a vendor pitching a public key encrypted media service, but never heard about them again.

A well encrypted securely authenticated web site that includes scary legal threats if there is any misuse of your IP might work unless there is any serious interest in copying or real monetary value to a copy, in that case, no chance.
posted by sammyo at 8:06 PM on December 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

What you're describing is Digital Rights Management (DRM) and there's any number of streaming media providers that will do what you need for a fee. The problem is that DRM will pretty much always have some kind of flaw that will allow dedicated people to bypass or work around it. You'll find lot of sites offering information on how to do so (including this very site, despite it nominally being a topic banned by the terms of service).

How much incentive do your clients have to make copies of your content? If this is something like a training course that costs thousand of dollars and that they want to use year after year without paying for it, they can get pretty inventive. There's some simple DRM schemes for web video that prevents using screen capture software from doing so that can be defeated by tweaking an easy to find setting in the browser. I can hook up a video capture card with an HDMI input that presents itself as a generic monitor to the computer, so unless the DRM solution tries to prevent that, it's easy to record a copy. Things like HDCP attempt to do so, but as you can see from the article, it's been broken and updated repeatedly. And it can cause problems with corporate clients who want to show content in conference rooms because their projector/AV equipment may not be HDCP or whatever compliant.

At the extreme level, if I'm willing to lose quality to save thousands of dollars, I can just point a video camera at a monitor and get a relatively decent copy of it.

There is sometimes a sweet spot with DRM where it is secure enough that most people can't or won't bother to break it and will just buy legitimate access, but as the price scales up an increasing number of people will do so (and if they're paying enough that it makes sense for you to travel to them to play it for them, I suspect that at least some of your clients would make copies, even if it takes some effort).

In some cases, assuming that being able to show the content on a big screen or projector isn't a factor for the clients, I know of companies that provide custom content on a locked down tablet with a relatively protected application to play the video that they ship to the customer and either get back or just write off as a cost of selling an expensive training program.
posted by Candleman at 11:32 PM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

If someone wanted your video, they'll use a screen recorder, or do what movie pirates do: point a camera at the screen. Nothing you do can prevent that.

With that said, the simplest way to ATTEMPT to control access somewhat, is to stream the content via an expiring URL, authenticated to the authorized user account. The URL expires after X hours (72?).
posted by kschang at 11:33 PM on December 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you're technically capable, post the videos to an AWS S3 bucket, and use an Information Lifecycle Policy to delete (or merely move) the file after N days.

(Other web hosting services probably also have a similar "file expiration" auto-delete feature.)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:51 AM on December 2, 2021

"A well encrypted securely authenticated web site that includes scary legal threats if there is any misuse of your IP might work"

No it won't.

"if someone wanted your video, they'll use a screen recorder, or do what movie pirates do: point a camera at the screen"

Screen recorders or pointing a camera at the screen are low tech and there are much easier options.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:25 AM on December 3, 2021

You can discourage copying the video through various means, but you're going to have a real hard time preventing it entirely. As mentioned, someone who really cared about stealing it could just screencap it as it played. HDCP is designed to prevent this, but HDCP doesn't work very well in browsers and is generally a hassle (this is why for awhile Netflix only worked at full HD resolution in Internet Explorer -- the DRM didn't work in other browsers).

Vimeo is probably your most straightforward bet, but I have definitely saved copies of paid Vimeo videos.

The movies/shows distributed by pirates nowadays are almost always downloaded directly from streaming services. They rarely bother ripping from Bluray anymore. If Netflix, Amazon, and HBO Max can't stop a dedicated pirate, neither can you.

So it really depends on what your threat model is. Want to discourage casual copying? Vimeo or a similar service is probably fine. Want to stop someone who has a copy of youtube-dl and knows what an authentication cookie is? That's significantly harder.

(source: amateur video "archivist")
posted by neckro23 at 6:24 AM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

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