Let’s make it clear, we’re speaking about piracy
First off, a necessary intro and at the same time a disclosure: this post does not encourage you to pirate movies. Not only it’s illegal, it is immoral.
I was a filmmaker for 22 years. I suffered from piracy. My friends suffered from piracy. I have no intention to promote it and I don’t think it conforms with “freedom” or “justice” as some cynical people present it (and then charge for their pirated movies “to cover the costs”).
The thing is — availability of information is more important to me than the protection of my films. I did the same thing 9 years ago when I was writing very detailed tutorials on how to access the Darknet/Deep web with total anonymity. I knew that bad things can be done on the Darknet and yet, I think that blocking people from entering the Darknet by depriving them from the knowledge of how to do it, is not only stupid, but immoral.
Humans have to choose between right or wrong. Choice gives our life a meaning. I chose to enter the Darknet and refrain from the bad (yes, I’m aware of the paradox, as I can’t prove it, but that’s between me and myself).
Back to Piracy!
There is also another a reason for me (beyond the belief in the freedom of knowledge) to write this post: One of the initiatives I created, Movies Everywhere, has anti-piracy built-in to all videos uploaded to the system. It’s an encryption mechanism that was created slowly and meticulously by Shyam Verma and his team and we are very proud of it.
During the onboarding process with new users, some of our clients enquire about the level of protection we provide. “Is it a Hollywood Grade DRM?” they ask.
No it’s not. We encrypt all the videos, but we don’t have, for example, hardware-based protection that can block screen recording. We could have it if we paid the hefty prices asked by tech giants, but then our clients would have to pay for it, as part of the chain.
And why bother? — It’s a waste of money to go as far as the “Hollywood Grade DRM”, in the current pricing model .Reasonable protection is enough, because any protection mechanism has its limits. I will prove why below.
By the way, the term Hollywood Grade is made up. There isn’t a an official standard and no committee in Hollywood assembles to approve DRM vendors. The market is dominated by 3 giant companies who decided unilaterally how they protect movies from piracy and that became the de-facto standard.
I’m proud to say that we provide good-enough protection, not more and not less. There is a thin line between spending money on a mechanism and reaching to an expense that is higher than the revenue generated.
And in plain words: If you sell a ticket for a movie for $2 and you pay $2.5 for DRM, then you’re obviously making a mistake. You will either have to raise the ticket price or go bankrupt. And since the market is dominated by very few companies and there’s no real competition, only giants can allow themselves that “Hollywood Grade” made up non-standard. The smaller entrepreneurs have to give up DRM altogether, or develop alternatives.
On Movies Everywhere, we developed an alternative and as I will show below, it is not even a compromise, since the “official” DRM fails very quickly.
Is it necessary to have that “official” DRM at all? — I will now prove it’s not.
It’s important to find the balance between the amount spent on protection and the gain achieved by that augmented protection. I preach for an optimized solution, not an ideal solution. That’s why I call for a good enough DRM and not more than that.
by the way, the same rationale is applied at the state level when planning the defense budget or with families protecting their homes with cameras and locks. you can always spend more, but there must be a limit and the sweet spot of expenditure vs. security has be found.
It is the calculated risk every entity or individual has to take.
The Illusion of the “official” DRM
Many clients don’t care about those considerations. And I understand them. From their perspective, we on Movies Everywhere should do anything we can to protect their films. But no one lives in a bubble and when I ask what they mean by full protection, they usually speak about that Hollywood Grade DRM, used by Netflix and other companies, as an ideal and a standard.
Fair enough, I tell them. And what if I proved to you that this supposedly unbreakable DRM can be easily breached?
Many times, the discussion stops there. It is exactly the point, in situations, when a debate about religion or ideology stops being interesting: People stop listening and find shelters in their beliefs. Facts don’t matter anymore.
But I’m here for the facts, not the myths.
I wrote this post for those who are curious and open minded. In addition, I urge you to try this at home. Of course, needless to say, destroy any copy of what you recorded, because we’re here to make a point, not to rob anyone’s creation.
It is important to note that we speak about pirating a movie to which you had legitimate access at least once. That is the situation on Movies Everywhere (as we mainly work with film festivals or film competitions) and this is the scenario to which I relate: A person abuses his or her legitimate online session to pirate a movie.
Let’s Steal #1
Film the screen with a camera. Yes, I know it’s simple, but hey, I never said it isn’t!
- Use a projector and a screen. This way, there would be no edge and the frame border will look clean. You can further refine it by cropping the edges in an editing software.
- Using a real camera (not a cellphone) and a tripod will yield better results.
- If there’s flicker, adjust the frequency in the projector menu and/or play with the shutter speed in the camera. Have no idea what I’m talking about? — Read more here.
- Audio: simply connect the output for the speakers to a digital recorder, either through bluetooth or a cable.
- It’s recommended to check for synchronization of the video and audio files in an editing software. If you are a true pirate, respect the profession.
Let’s steal #2
The second method involves screen recording.
It’s important to know that what I called Hollywood Grade DRM does include in its protocol agreements with hardware and software vendors that prohibit such recordings.
However, there is a workaround: open source software. The developers of open source software are not participants in any such consortium that agrees to block our devices from screen recordings, not only because it’s impractical (the developers are independents and work for no one), but because it’s against their ideology.
One such software is OBS.
I will explain below shortly how to record any movie with OBS. By the way, the internet is full of such tutorials. One of them, updated for 2022, is here.
But before that, I want to tell you about an interesting conversation I had, which sheds light on the process behind the scenes:
During a social event, I had the chance to speak with a person I didn’t know before. After he asked me what I do for a living (and hobby), he told me that in his professional past, he was the developer of the component that forces devices to block screen recordings of content that is protected with “Hollywood Grade DRM”. I was quite excited. Not everyday you meet a person whose work affects the life of millions of people. But this is how works with engineers that work in companies like Google, Microsoft or Intel: Their work as individuals affects millions. He told me that the mechanism he developed will block any unauthorized recording at the hardware level. It just wouldn’t work.
Then I told him about OBS screen recording, that bypasses those obstacles. And he said something that shocked me: Every software should “ask permission” from the operating system for recording. This is the standard procedure. But some software developers ignore that procedure and plan their software in a way that will bypass that procedure.
Record Any Movie With OBS
As I mentioned before, the internet is full of tutorials, that guide you how to do it step by step, with videos and screenshots.
Therefore, I will not elaborate too much. But basically, you just define the screen you’re recording by adding Display Capture for the video and add Audio Input Capture. Then play the movie on your desktop in real time and hit Start Recording on OBS.
It’s also recommended to define the file quality, frames per second and make sure your computer can handle the real time recording, but that’s basically it.
A very detailed explanation can be found here and in dozens of other websites.
** Note about audio to macOS users: there’s no native desktop audio recording for Mac. I personally use Blackhole, which allows you to route audio between applications. Recently I saw a discussion that says the issue is solved natively in macOS 13.
I was trying to make a point in this post. And that point is definitely NOT to encourage you to steal movies. Just to point out that it is a good practice to protect movies to some extent (especially if you are a filmmaker, producer, distributor, festival director etc.). But please, keep it in proportions, because at the end, every movie can be pirated.