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eLearning content piracy

Providing online courses is a profitable business, yet ensuring the eLearning content security can be a challenging task. This is due to  the fact that infamous learners can harass the sales by abusing the license agreement and sharing their passwords, downloading the educational content or streaming it, as the options to track and prevent such activities are quite limited. Corporate training faces the same problem as malevolent employees can damage the business by disclosing the internal information and educational materials. In this post we look at what are the threats and how they can be prevented.

1626 04/01/2018

eLearning content piracy: is your online course security compromised?

Online learning or corporate training process requires some degree of honesty from the learner. However, if in corporate training certain means of employee control are available, in MOOCs there is literally no possibility to monitor the learner’s actions. This leaves the eLearning content, which required hundreds of hours of work to create and can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars practically lying in the open. Here are the examples of the most widespread copyright abuse cases:

  1. Password sharing. One learner can subscribe for a paid course and share their password with friends, thus turning a group of potential customers into freeloaders and stealing the income from the rightful owners.
  2. Content downloading. Multiple video downloading tools are available, allowing malevolent users download the videos they gained access to and upload them to YouTube, Vimeo or other video hosting services or torrent sites.
  3. Copyright infringement. There was a scandal back in 2015 when it turned out several courses on Udemy were published by copyright violators. They just downloaded the real courses, renamed or slightly edited them and uploaded as their own product, thus infringing the copyright and income of legitimate owners.
  4. Screen capturing. Simply recording and streaming the legitimate online course content displayed on their screens helps malevolent users pirate the content and undermine the profits of the best-crafted and masterfully designed courses.

There are some numbers provided in the Learnyst research, demonstrate just how dire the situation with online course content piracy is:

  • Approximately 70% of the Internet users nowadays find content piracy acceptable
  • Around 20% of the Internet bandwidth globally is used for streaming, uploading and downloading pirated materials
  • 99% of files on various torrent trackers were copyrighted, but are cracked and freely available now
  • Around $50 billion in potential income is lost annually due to copyright infringement worldwide
  • More than 33% of YouTube ads-running streams are done by fans or users without appropriate copyright holder’s permission

What can be done to prevent online course content piracy then? Here are some ways to solve this.

The ways to prevent online course content piracy

Below we compiled a list of methods allowing to improve the chances of closing the online course security issues.

  1. Password sharing can be blocked through limiting the options of course access to a small number of verified devices the learner can access the course from. In addition, the limit of one device at a time should be set, so the learner can access the course on the mobile device or through the web, but not both ways simultaneously.
  2. Content downloading can be prevented through the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) tools and special software or services like VdoCipher. By adding watermarks to the video content, encrypting the videos and restricting the video reproduction to licensed video players, this threat can be mitigated. Even if such encrypted videos are downloaded, they cannot be played anywhere else.
  3. Copyright infringement can be fought by browsing the web (and the online course provider websites, of course) in search of your online course materials. There are specialized tools like ContentRaven for that too, and once your authorship is proved, the infringing materials are removed. At least, that was the outcome in the aforementioned scandal with online course piracy on Udemy.
  4. Screen capturing is the online course security breach that cannot be effectively closed at the moment. One of the possible solutions is embedding the learner’s personal details like verified email, phone number and/or home address to the video in such a way that attempt to blur them out would lead to the material becoming useless. 

    For example, such details can be placed diagonally and cover the whole screen, so if the learners decide to record and share the content they actually share their private data. Such actions might seem harsh, yet they can help solve the piracy and corporate know-how security issues for corporate training. Pirates want to remain anonymous and exposing the personal data can be a daunting perspective for them.

There are lots of companies offering digital content protection services, as well as many developers concentrating effort on delivering new means to enhance the online course security. Raccoon Gang is currently developing such a solution, which will be implemented in one of the future Open edX releases. We will inform you once it’s ready. Keep in touch to stay updated!

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