The Main Event: Pirates Off the Port Bow--How to Defend Yourself
Posted Jan 17, 2005

No, this isn't a column about the misuse of copyrighted popular music by wedding videographers. Anyone who's been in the event video business for more than a few months has probably seen that issue talked to death. Besides, EventDV ran a very nice article about copyrights by Geoff Daily in the September 2004 issue ("Safe and Sound").

But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? It used to be bad enough that we would occasionally lose sales to someone making copies of our VHS distribution tapes…but we always had the counter-argument that those copies were very poor quality. In the digital age, with its perfect, bit-for-bit copies, the problem is rapidly growing worse. Consumers can easily equip themselves with the ability to steal your work, with DVD recording drives selling for less than $100, and standalone DVD recorders at Sears for under $300.

I've heard from colleagues who, while running a sales table at a dance recital they were taping, overheard people telling their neighbors, "Oh, don't buy a DVD. I'm going to run off copies of mine." Sales of DVD burners are up…and multiple-copy sales of event video DVDs are going down. What's a poor event videographer to do to keep those scoundrels from taking bread out of his kids' mouths?

For projects where you expect to sell over 1,000 copies, there's the DVD content-scrambling system (CSS). This copy-protection scheme is not available unless you have your DVD replicated at an outfit that specializes in DVD authoring and replication. (Replication involves cutting glass masters and stamping hundreds or thousands of copies, and the economies of scale are prohibitive unless you're doing a sizeable run.) CSS can't be implemented by DVD±R/RW drives, nor can the Macrovision copy protection used on replicated DVDs that prevents users from doing digital-to-analog copies. Even if you could add Macrovision to a DVD, the licensing fees are uneconomical for small runs.

Besides, even if you implement some form of copy protection, there's always someone eager to break the code. CSS fell to the cleverness of a Norwegian student, and the student's code quickly became available on Web sites and embedded in shareware and commercially sold software.

Here are some ideas from event videographers on how to deal with the problem. None are foolproof or sure-fire, but they may help to at least reduce your losses.

• Make your money on the production. Keep the per-copy charge for DVDs low. This works well for a wedding project or any job where the number of DVDs is small.
• Sell the project directly to the sponsoring organization, with a guarantee of a minimum number of sales. You might sell a recital package to a dance studio for $1,800, with the price including 50 DVDs. The studio would be responsible for selling the DVDs, in order to recoup the cost of the video production.
• For recitals and similar events, you might sell the studio on the idea of building the cost of the DVD into student tuition. An increase of a couple dollars a month would let the studio offer a "free" DVD to each student.

• Reduce the effort you put into the project. Minimize the fancy editing; use more live switching. If you can keep editing time down, you can sell DVDs at a lower cost. If the discs are inexpensive, pirates have less of an advantage. (I don't like the idea of turning out a product that's less than the best I can offer, but everyone must make their own cost-vs.-time tradeoffs).
• Appeal to civic virtue. If a portion of each sale benefits the host organization, people may make fewer copies.
• Offer a reward for information leading to the identification of copiers. This can go in a package insert and on the video itself. Your DVD could contain a graphic showing the DVD label and jewel box, with a statement like "If your video doesn't look like this, it's an illegal copy."

• Use peer pressure, by refusing to tape events where you have identified copiers. Explain to the event organizers why you can't provide your services.
• Use a stronger copyright notice than the standard "FBI Warning" everyone ignores. How about a video showing you and your family, with the message that every illegal copy means less for Junior's college fund?
• Scare tactics. On the DVD label, and in the warning notice, say something like, "This video is protected by VideoVirus™ technology. Any attempt to copy this disc will damage the recording device. ABC Video is not responsible for any damage caused by illegal copying attempts." (Of course, this only works until someone actually calls your bluff by making a copy.)
• Offer added value. If your DVD package contains extras, like a printed insert with performer bios or photos, people may prefer the "real thing" to the knockoff copy. Even a professional-looking jewel case label and a printed disc label are advantages over the copiers' product.
• When playback compatibility reports improve, consider using double-layer DVD+R DL media and producing DVDs larger than 4.7GB. Pirates will have to re-encode the video at a lower rate, creating an inferior product.