Planning to create online dance courses? Here’s how to prevent video theft.

by Lina Schiano We’re halfway through 2020 and I think we’re all familiar with Zoom bombing at this point.

Been there, done that, know how to handle it. No sweat.

If you’ve been teaching live online classes, you’ve likely gotten more and more comfortable with teaching on video and handling your classes. So comfortable, in fact, you might be looking to expand your online offerings to include prerecorded video content.

While prerecorded videos can help you diversify your income and reach new audiences, they also come with different security challenges than live online classes. And unfortunately, they’re not as easy to handle as Zoom bombing.

Why do I need to protect my instructional videos?

Video piracy is nothing new, but now it’s not as clear cut as someone making a bootleg copy of your instructional DVD. Today, your video content can be stolen in just a few clicks.

Stolen videos can cause dance instructors financial harm in a variety of ways. For example:

⦁ Someone signs up for your class membership site, downloads all your videos, and immediately cancels their subscription for a full refund.

⦁ Someone supports you on Patreon, but secretly downloads your videos and reposts them for free on YouTube.

⦁ Someone purchases your online course, downloads all your videos, reposts them on another website, and charges for access to your content without your permission.

If these sound infuriating, it’s because yeah, they are!

You’ve worked hard to put together your instructional content, not to mention all the years of study and practice required to teach it in the first place. If you choose to put that content behind a paywall, it should darn well stay there.

As you build out your online courses, subscriptions, and membership sites, you need to consider how to work video anti-theft measures into your systems.

Can I just use YouTube unlisted videos?

Not really, and here’s why.

You can upload a video to YouTube as an unlisted video, which prevents it from being discovered in public search results. But it doesn’t place any restrictions on where that video can be watched.

So let’s say, for example, you upload an unlisted YouTube video as a Patreon post. Ideally, you want only paid patrons logged into Patreon to see that video.

When you add the link to your YouTube video to a Patreon post, you’re embedding that video into your post. Similarly, you can embed videos into pages on your website so they are viewable from your website.

However, there is no way of ensuring that YouTube video can only be played on the websites in which it’s embedded. Anyone can copy the link to the video and open it on YouTube to watch it from anywhere.

Let’s take a look at this in action. Here’s a test video I’ve uploaded to Patreon. As you can see, clicking on the “YouTube” button in the lower right hand corner of the post will open up this same video in YouTube.


The video is still unlisted, but now all the sharing options are fully available. Your video is not secure.


Unlisted YouTube videos are not secure because they do not have options for domain level privacy. With domain level privacy enabled, you specify exactly which sites your embedded video can be played from. For example, you can prevent your video from being played anywhere else other than your website, Patreon, or wherever else you host paid content.

If that wasn’t motivation enough to try a different solution, YouTube also can put ads over your content (whether the video is embedded in your website or watched on YouTube). This can be frustrating to students, especially if they’ve paid to access your videos.

If YouTube’s out, what are my options?

By far the simplest way to protect your videos is using the domain level privacy feature through Vimeo.

Vimeo is a video hosting and sharing platform that caters more to business clients, unlike YouTube. In addition, to not placing ads on your content, Vimeo offers simple options for domain level privacy on all their paid plans. At the time of this article, a Vimeo Plus plan is just $7/month (billed annually) or $12/month (billed monthly), making it an easy and affordable option.

If you’re using Patreon, you can also take advantage of their built-in Patreon integration to add protected videos to Patreon posts without changing any settings at all.

Another nifty feature of Vimeo is that on their higher-tier Pro plan ($20/month billed annually) you have the option of renting paid on demand videos through their platform. While the Pro plan certainly isn’t necessary to host videos on their platform, this is a straightforward and simple way for non-tech savvy dancers to get started with on demand video rentals.

You can read Vimeo’s help article for detailed instructions on how to enable domain level privacy in your videos.

Side note for anyone frustrated at the expense of Vimeo: if you’re really serious about saving money, you can achieve the same result using Amazon S3 file hosting and some non-user friendly coding. If it works, you can host videos for a couple bucks each month. Personally, I don’t think spending hours learning coding is worth it to save less than $10, but hey, the choice is yours.


When Vimeo Is Not Effective

One thing I’ve been seeing a lot lately is dancers using Vimeo pro accounts to host videos, but sharing the Vimeo links rather than embedding the videos with domain level privacy. Remember, if you can access the video directly using a link, that link can be freely shared and your video is not secure.

Of course, using Vimeo will still prevent ads from appearing on your video, even without domain level privacy enabled. This in itself may be worth the monthly cost.

However, if you find yourself sharing videos among a small trusted group, you can probably avoid thinking about this entirely. Vimeo isn’t magically more secure just because it’s Vimeo. In any tech system, the weakest security link is usually the humans involved.

For example, if you’re sharing a choreo video with your troupe mates, there’s (hopefully!) no concern about them selling the video behind your back. Save yourself some money each month and just stick with unlisted YouTube videos, Google Drive links, or using a group communication app like Band or WhatsApp.

When do I not have to worry about this?

Before we wrap things up, there are some circumstances in which you don’t have to worry about this.

One is what I’ve described above. If you’re sharing videos informally with a group you trust, a free solution works just fine. Yes, a group member could theoretically steal and share your content, but the risk is far lower than if you’re selling and promoting to a wide audience.

The other case is if your course or membership platform handles video hosting itself (ex: Teachable), you’re already covered. Teachable in particular uses Wistia, an enterprise-level tool similar to Vimeo, automatically on all uploaded videos. Domain level privacy is already enabled without you having to do anything.


Preventing Your Videos Isn’t Expensive Or Complicated

Thankfully, due to advances in technology protecting your instructional videos online is easier than ever. Taking a few steps to use the right video hosting and settings can greatly reduce the risk of stolen content.

If you need any help planning out and setting up your online content delivery systems, feel free to reach out to me at lina@oddenly.com – I’m happy to point you in the right direction.

Lina Schiano is a hobbyist bellydancer and a PhD student in consumer insights/marketing. She's on a mission to demystify technology and simplify digital marketing for creative people. Learn more and find other tech resources at oddenly.com

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