Sunday, December 11, 2011

DVD Duplicator Copy Protection No Good

You’re an independent video producer and businessperson and you want to do something about all those pirated copies of your DVD productions, suspected or confirmed, that clients are creating, distributing, even selling, cutting into your profits. Is there an effective, affordable protection scheme available to prevent people from ripping you off?

The short answer is NO.


The reality is two-fold:

1.) The resources, tools and information for cracking copy protection for just about any DVD, at any level, for any commercial or independent production is out there. Two trusted associates, one relatively amateur but dedicated, the other technically very knowledgeable, were able to crack the copy protection scheme used by my recently-purchased DVD duplicator in no time.

More on that later in this article.

2.) Those who know how, often do break and copy at will, those who don’t probably will not. Copy protection at any level keeps honest people honest. Otherwise, don’t count on it.

Another “reality” if you will, when it comes to the independent producer considering investing in a DVD duplicator with copy protection, is that runs of less than 100 are simply not worth the investment premium even if copy protection did work.


I purchased a Spartan Fortress DVD duplicator tower from Super Media Store dot com at a significantly higher premium (price) than I would have otherwise.

I spent an additional $25 for a USB 2.0 connection. The 1-to-5 duplicator has 20x units and uses DiscLock Technology/SATA and comes with a 250GB hard drive. My total purchase price was $1,004.

The same store sells any number of models, economy and premium, and without copy protection, software or hardware variety, of manually operated CD/DVD duplicators starting as low as $211 (prices current as of December, 2011) for a 3-to-1 economy unit and less than $340 for a premium 4-to-1 system with a 250GB hard drive. As far as I can tell economy comes without a hard drive, premium will include a hard drive ranging in capacity from 250GB to 500GB.

For shear duplication volume you could purchase an 11-to-1 economy line duplicator for under $500; an 11-to-1 premium line duplicator for $815. A 5-to-1 premium duplicator? $480. Yes, less than half the price I paid, making the premium for copy protection that offers no real protection rather high.

Essentially I knew this going in but still wanted a means to keep the honest people honest. To that extent I’ll likely succeed. Would I purchase the Spartan Fortress duplicator with hardware copy protection, or even a unit with a software scheme and the requisite key purchases I’d have to make from time-to-time? No. Not for that much of a price difference. I’d rather have acquired volume in my duplication for a similar price, offering me 11-at-a-time copies, than essentially useless and ineffective copy protection.

So, why did I do it? The answer is complicated.

My theory is that some of the people to whom I sell video are honest enough that if they first attempt to duplicate one of my DVDs in their home computer, and there’s a hiccough, they’ll stop trying and order additional copies from me.

This is provided my copies are reasonably priced and the packaging is of professional quality. That means the graphics, inserts, cases and production all present a sense of quality, as opposed to hand-written labeling on silver DVDs.


CD/DVD copy protection is a blanket term for various methods of copy protection for CDs and DVDs. Such methods include DRM (digital rights management), CD-checks, Dummy Files, illegal tables of contents, over-sizing or over-burning the CD, physical errors, and bad sectors. Many protection schemes rely on breaking compliance with CD and DVD standards, leading to playback problems on some devices.

Protection schemes rely on distinctive features that:

• can be applied to a medium during the manufacturing process, so that a protected medium is distinguishable from an unprotected one.

• cannot be faked, copied, or retroactively applied to an unprotected medium using typical hardware and software.”

“I’ve read an increasing number of stories (on the Internet) indicating that, in an attempt to discourage the continued spread of these (copy protection cracking) tools, that websites containing discussion and how-to articles on how to defeat DRM on various media, including new tools to duplicate Blu-ray media, are being attacked and some even shut down. This really hasn’t stopped things, and the tools and information is all still very much out there,” one researcher told me.

So, for free or for an investment of as much as $150, maybe more, there are tools available to any individual who wants to get past my duplicator’s copy protection scheme, or any other on the market today for that matter. How then, can I, or you, justify spending as much as twice the money for a duplicator that claims to have copy protection, software and key, or hardware but doesn’t really work?

The bottom line is we can’t but there is, I believe, an argument for having something that attempts to protect our productions from being pirated. And there’s a few arguments for using whatever means at our disposal in an attempt to discourage the outright practice of ripping us off by denying potential copy sales.


Consciously I’m not, but I’m also sure, to some degree, I might be sorry for not taking my research a bit further before jumping in and making the purchase. For one, instead of asking some general questions of a couple of producers whom I know are duplicating in large numbers for distribution — major band and cheerleading competition events with on-site sales in the thousands, for example — I should have inquired of several others. I should have attempted to get a broader representation over a field of professionals who have average duplication runs of 10 or less, as well as those doing hundreds, if not thousands.

The initial responses I received were that though systems like the one I purchased are not a guaranteed protection against duplication, by informing their customers the DVDs were copy protected, they observed an increase in sales compared to prior programs.

In fact, one guy who has a major success story working in the area of mass on-site production of DVDs during major competition events told me it was totally worthwhile to pay the premium.

I really should have asked for serious numbers and considered the varied factors that might or not effect that outcome. For example: spontaneous on-site sales based on notification that DVDs are copy protected might work for a season or two, until people purchasing them realize after trying to crack them that there’s no effective protection. Then sales might start dropping. Again.

Bottom line is I don’t think spending $500 or more for copy protection that is absolutely unreliable as a deterrent is a good decision economically. On the other hand, now that I’ve done it, I have to say that I’ve noticed a slight increase in orders of 3-to-5 copies of montage, memorial and funeral video productions. No difference at all in sales from work once, sell many events such as school plays, choral performances, dance recitals or other such events averaging 100 units or so.


The first experiments were conducted by a guy who collects movies, “every movie DVD I get my hands on,” as a hobby. He is a serious collector but has limited technical skills.

I sent each of my researchers three DVDs: a funeral of more than one hour in length; a retirement montage and production of about 45 minutes; and a 15-minute high school graduating senior montage video. All were created from a master DVD dash-R generated in my Mac, then burned to blanks using the Spartan Fortress with the hardware copy protection engaged.

NOTE: With the model I bought, and as I understand it virtually all other hardware-based copy protection DVD duplication towers, you cannot utilize the copy protection using the system’s built-in hard drive. There’s other restrictions as well, so the ONLY way is to duplicate from your original DVD dash-R master.

The amateur tried a couple of PC and one Mac desktop systems but could get none of them to recognize any of the test DVDs. Only when using a fourth, laptop, unit were any of the three recognized, but after that and utilizing a paid commercial copy-breaking software all three were duplicated in a matter of minutes.

The tech researcher had “no problems”, using freeware, creating duplicates of all three DVDs: less than two minutes for the shortest one and a little over six minutes for the longest. My researcher went further, attacking them on both a Mac unit and a PC, using different software with similar results.

When the tech savvy researcher first opened the files nothing showed in the file system to indicate a copy protection was even applied. “I looked for files not part of the standard DVD ROM UDF specification. I found nothing,” the report stated.

After verifying with me that the DVDs sent had actually been recorded using the Spartan Fortress copy protection engaged, another look was taken at the files.

By simply copying the DVDs to a folder on the Mac hard drive it was discovered that “there appears something special about how the DVDs are written that causes the computer to go into wait state and the OS to choke.” The PC test using Windows XP failed in that a direct copy could not be created to hard drive.

It was discovered that the duplicator writes an unneeded file to the Video_TS folder of the DVDs.

This simple protection scheme did prevent my other DVD duplicator, a 3-to-1 duplicator I purchased several years ago for $1,000. from recognizing or duplicating the protected DVD. My tech researcher says this file appears, to the duplicator or computer attempting a straight duplication, to be corrupted and cannot be copied, forcing an error.


Anyone with limited knowledge of the available tools for cracking copy protection and attempting to duplicate a DVD created using the Spartan Fortress, and I would presume any other similar system, on either a computer, Mac or PC, or any available duplicator, will be discouraged from doing so.

Anyone with any degree of knowledge or experience, Internet savvy and having one or more available free or commercial cracking programs can figure it out fairly quickly, bypass the problem, create a copy on their hard drive and generate a new master DVD that can then be duplicated at will.

What 10-year-old do you know doesn’t have that ability, given access to a computer and the Internet? On the other hand.

If you’re generating less than 100 copies of anything you simply cannot justify the cost for copy protection that isn’t effective, and if you’re going to be distributing thousands of copies you don’t need a manually operated DVD duplicator anyway. You’ll outsource any major commercial duplication needs.

© 2011, Earl Chessher