Copy Protection for Your DVDs, Part 1

Figure 1. René Marie in concert. How to ship a DVD with copy protection?

Figure 1. René Marie in concert. How to ship a DVD with copy protection?

This past year, I produced about 12 separate DVD projects ranging in quantity from five to about 200 DVDs. Simplifying the printing and replication of these projects was the Microboards MX-2 Disc Publisher that Microboards seemingly forgot about and left with me for 12 luxurious months. You can read my review of the unit here.

Inevitably, the email came requesting the unit back, and soon it will go. In the meantime, a longtime muse returned to my life, which related to a concert that I shot in 2006 of jazz singer René Marie. I shot and produced the original DVD as a freebie to test several HDV camcorders, as well as to provide a multicamera HD test project for future reviews of video editing programs. But Marie was fabulous, the sound guy was superb, my camera buddies were outstanding, and after months of color correction and noise reduction to counteract the then piss-poor lighting of the Rex Theater in Galax, Va., the finished DVD was stunning.

Marie and I traded emails, Virginia to Colorado, discussing how to potentially sell the DVD, but things never coalesced and I let it drop. A couple of weeks ago, I was reviewing some concert footage that I had uploaded to YouTube, and I coincidentally got an informational email from Marie's website discussing some of her upcoming shows.

I thought of the René Marie DVD and contacted her, asking if I could post some of her videos on YouTube. She graciously agreed (here's my favorite, though I'd use shorter transitions if I were to do it all over again), and writing of the DVD, said "I still have the ones you gave me, with some vague goal to eventually get everything together to sell them on my website."

So I started thinking about that again, and my thoughts quickly ran to copy protection. Sure I could replicate the disc and add copy protection that way, but that involves up-front costs and order minimums. While I could quickly run off a few hundred DVDs on my soon to be disappearing MX-2, how could I protect them from being illegally copied in the field? This is a constant problem for event folks like myself, particularly wedding and other small distribution productions where one technologically savvy miscreant in a small, relatively closed group of buyers can really cut into your profits. Selling an additional 10 DVDs at $20 a pop for all 12 productions last year would have added $2,400 to my coffers, not an insignificant amount.
Then I remembered that Microboards offered copy protection as a feature of the MX-2. Based upon Patronus copy protection from Fortium Technologies, Microboards "VideoWrite wraps the video on the DVD in a protective file that doesn't interfere with playback but prevents common ripping software programs from accessing the video," according to Microboards.

"Patronus introduces copy control encapsulation in areas of the disc not read by DVD players during playback," according to the Fortium website. "Complying with the DVD standard, the original content is not modified and playback quality remains unaffected."

Figure 2. Click the Do you want to use VideoWrite? checkbox, and that's it.

Figure 2. Click the "Do you want to use VideoWrite?" checkbox, and that's it.

Implementation of VideoWrite is simple: Just use the checkbox in the Microboards software application, as shown in Figure 2. When you check the "Do you want to use VideoWrite?" checkbox, so long as you have the necessary credits, the software will copy-protect your DVDs. Microboards sells credits on a sliding scale, with 100 credits costing $225, 500 costing $625, 1,000 costing $1,000, and 5,000 costing $3,750.

Figure 3. The original and the protected ISO images.

Figure 3. The original and the protected ISO images.

Operationally, the software reads in the ISO image file and then creates a new image file that it actually burns to disc. That creates two issues: hard-disk space for the new file and, more importantly, space on the DVD. As you can see in Figure 3, the protected coppelia.iso file is about 184MB larger than the original ISO, so if your original ISO barely fit on the DVD, the copy-protected file would be too large. I typically don't like to burn DVDs with more than 4.2GB anyway, since many DVD players seem to have trouble reading data on the edge, so I'd want to adjust my ISO size down even further.

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Once the protected ISO is ready, it's business as usual for the MX-2: Just load the discs and set the number of copies.

So what do you care about when considering technology like this? First, that it plays where you want it to play, and second, that it's not easily crackable. On the first front, Microboards asserts that VideoWrite has been tested for playback compatibility and is found to work with 99.88 percent of the U.S. install base of DVD players. The protected Coppélia DVD I made (killer second act, by the way) played on all the DVD players in my home and office—set-top and computer (Mac and Windows)—which was a small but obviously important sample to me.

On the crackable front, I'll give the DVD to a technologically savvy miscreant who will attempt to crack the protection with his suite of illegal DVD-ripping tools and who will (anonymously) write about his results. I'll duplicate his efforts on legal DVD-ripping tools that I have here (that don't attempt to crack any copy protection schemes), such as Roxio Creator and Toast, HandBrake, and several others. I hope these won't be able to crack the DVD, but you never know until you test. I'll also see if I can track down a case study or two of actual users of the Fortium technology to get their view from the field.