How to Protect Streaming Video From Being Stolen
First of all, a reality check: There is no way to completely prevent online video from being stolen. If it can be viewed on a computer it can be stolen. The best you can do is make it hard for thieves and minimize the number of times the video is stolen. You can't stop it completely. Many people struggle to accept this fact but it's the truth so get used to it.
As for how you make it hard for thieves, there are various options depending on the way your video is presented. Let's start at the beginning, using the most basic types of video presentation and then move on to more complex and better solutions.
Progressive Download Files
If you're using a simple embedded media player such as Windows Media or Quicktime to play a file via progressive download, you don't have much protection. The user only has to look at the HTML code to see the location of the video file and access it directly. There are a few things you can do to make it harder for the thief:
- A better option is to use Flash video. This way you can create a SWF file as the video player and have the video file location hidden inside the SWF file.
Unfortunately, even if you completely hide the video file location from the thief, all progressive download video still has one significant problem: The file is always downloaded to the user's computer. All the thief has to do is find the file on their hard drive (e.g. in their temporary internet files folder). That's why this delivery method is inherently open to theft.
Streaming Video Files
If you want any real level of protection you need to use a true streaming server. The big advantage here is that the file is not actually downloaded to the user's computer—it is seen only as a real-time stream and there is no file left on the user's hard drive.
Streaming video provides fairly good protection. It will stop most casual thieves dead—only those with determination and a bit of technical understanding will continue to try and steal the video.
The most common method of stealing streaming video is to use a video stream capture tool. This is an application that captures a video stream and saves it as a file. This type of theft is extremely difficult to guard against. Although there may be some defences, e.g. denying access to known capture utilities, this level of defence starts to become a losing battle. A thief who is dedicated enough to use a stream capture utility is probably dedicated enough to do whatever it takes to get the video.
Even if the thief can't capture the stream directly, they can always use a screen capture utility. This is an application that captures whatever is displayed on screen. They can define a certain area or window (i.e. the video screen), play the video and tell the utility to capture it. There really isn't much you can do to fight this, but even if you could...
Anyone can set up a video camera and point it at a computer monitor. Anyone with a few clues can remove flicker and get a reasonable result. There is absolutely no way you can stop them from doing this. Although it's a very uncommon way to steal video, it's a good illustration of the fact that thieves always have one more option than the webmaster.
The best and most practical way to stop theft is to use a streaming server. Trying to add any more protection is probably not worth the effort.