Balancing Between Film Copyright Protection and User Experience

by Yoram Schaffer

Does security have to be inconvenient?

GoldPhone /Wikipedia

You’re a filmmaker or a film distributor. You want to protect your film. That’s obvious. At the same time, you want to expose your creation to as many people as possible. At least most artists want that.
So far so good.

But there’s a catch: The more you protect your film (online), the worse the user experience will get.

The latter is not so obvious and must be explained. Then, we’ll offer some solutions to mitigate the challenge.

Why can’t we have the cake and eat it?

Imagine an airport (in the days this article is written, the airport is definitely something most of us can only dream about-:)). At the airport, there are metal detectors and sometimes, security agents will ask you some questions about where you come from, what your plans are, etc. In some airports, there are several metal detectors. You’ll also have to empty your pockets, throw away your bottle of water, and take off your shoes. All that requires you, the passenger, to be at the airport a few hours before the flight.
Is it comfortable? — No. In the internet world, we call this discomfort bad UX. The reason for all those security checks are known to everyone: fear of terror or criminals. That is the reason why most passengers accept those procedures and know that in their vacation, they will probably have to spend two days just traveling, most of those hours in the airport itself.

Security vs. comfort. Do they necessarily contradict? // Credit: Luis Prado

Back to the real world (i.e — the Internet)

On the internet, we (the users) are much less tolerant. Not only because computers, phones, and smart TVs don’t tend to explode like airplanes, but because that “danger” of hijacking a movie is irrelevant to the viewers. In a world where piracy consumption is so common and so many videos are born or let free, it is really hard for users to understand why filmmakers are so keen about protecting their films.

Based on a true story

Well, not just based, but a true story: Last week, we conducted a screening of a new TV series. It was a pre-premiere. The series was not yet broadcast, so the TV channel only allowed it to be broadcast to a limited audience, whereby the producer had to limit the capacity and all the viewers had to individually register. Movies Everywhere is built just for that, so it was easy to implement it.
Did I just write “easy”?… It was definitely not easy.
The target audience of that series is not very fond of technology. They find registration and passwords to be a nightmare. And they bombarded us with complaints: why don’t you just publish an open link?! Why don’t you simply put it on Youtube?! Why do you have to complicate things?
Note: I noticed that when people ask “why” in such circumstances, the last thing they want to hear is a straight answer -:) — They want you to remove the goddam boundaries, passwords, registrations, and verifications you put on the bloody film!!!

Our dilemma

We can’t, just can’t publish a simple link to the series. It’s not allowed by law. It will violate the contract with the TV channel, ruin the relations of the producer with the broadcaster, and might lead to a lawsuit. On the other side, there’s this huge audience, which creates a buzz that helps foster the community of fans for the series.
But instead of discussing on Facebook how much they enjoyed the series, those fans were mainly complaining about the UX!

Solution #1 — improve UX

Given that it’s not possible to give up the registration to watch the series for legal reasons, can we improve the registration process? — The answer is yes. And we’re working on it. That’s also my advice to whoever builds a wall for content: check again and again and again and again how you can improve the user experience. The registration is the first and sometimes the only point where your users will interact with your system. There’s no second chance to make a first impression as the idiom goes and the registration process is by no means a “first impression”, for the good or the bad.

Why not both protect the film and provide advanced UX?

Solution #2 — have the cake and eat it, too

Yes, it’s possible to have the cake and stay healthy and thin (in our case — protected). Recently — and following much feedback, we developed a feature that allows both to protect your film and still bypass the registration process. I must stress that this solution does not fit 100% of the cases, but it fits many, as will be explained below.

Introducing the Magic Link

The Magic Link allows users to access the film simply by clicking a link we provide. And here comes the fun part:

  • Screening organizers can still limit the number of times the link is used, by setting the capacity for the screening, just like in a registration-based screening.
  • Screening organizers can set the timing availability of the screening. It sounds trivial but has a nice twist: Unlike private links or unlisted links on other platforms, the film is not available once the link is created. Admins can create a link a month or more in advance. Viewers who enter the page before the set time will see a countdown, just like in a registration-based screening.

Limitations

  • Using the Magic Link requires (at least ethically) the approval of the right-holders.
  • As no one registers for the screening, there is no individual user registration and therefore no personal data (i.e — no potential mailing lists).
    Note: it is still possible to leave the conventional registration to the screening in parallel, so the Magic Link can be also used as an individual ad-hoc solution and as a last resort for specific technically-challenged users.
  • It cannot be used in monetized screening. That’s because we have to associate the buyer with the screening and must register him or her.
    Note: If an organization charges users externally to the system (e.g — offline cash payments), the organizers can send the Magic Link to paying users.

Improvements

During the development process, my developers came up with more and more creative ideas which made it a killer-feature. For example, the ability to pause and re-activate a link during the screening start and end time and the ability to make it expired at once (before the screening preset end-time), and of course — the option to track how many times the link was used. It is also important to note that geo-restriction rules and tolerance time (when can a user join a screening after it had started) still apply.
So as you can see, the organizer of the screening can still have much control, although it seems at first glance that we are giving up control when generating a general link.

Impact

About two hours after we released the link, it was already used. Then it was used again and again and again. It’s a hit.
It is true that the Magic Link does not fit all screenings and use cases, but when balancing between a less technical audience and the chances that the film will be pirated, I personally believe the Magic Link is good for many cases.