Building a local video library from unlicensed sources has its attractions. Even if we leave cost out of the equation, these copies come in convenient formats that will play on any device, play over a network, and can be organized to create a Netflix-type experience using legal tools such as Plex. They can also be transported from location to location and even shared among friends.
Services like Netflix have sought to mimic some of these benefits by allowing content to be played on most devices and even downloaded for offline viewing. However, the key benefits enjoyed by pirates, such as maintaining permanent access to copiable DRM-free files, represent a threat to the subscription streaming model.
People Want to Download and Keep Movies & TV Shows
It is unlikely that these features will appear on a licensed mainstream service but that doesn’t stop subscribers from desiring them. Every week questions are posted on social media asking how videos can be downloaded from Netflix, for example, and the answers are usually the same: It is possible, there are quality issues, and people are better off grabbing a pirate copy ripped by ‘professionals’.
Clearly motivated by this demand, a piece of software called StreamFab has been promoted for a while now, with claims that it has the ability to download and create DRM-free 1080p MP4 files from services including Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO (720p is only available for new content due to a DRM update), Disney+, Hulu, Paramount Plus, U-Next, Rakuten TV, and even YouTube.
It’s available from the Microsoft Store in trial format but gets pretty costly if users want to cover all possible services. StreamFab All-In-One, for example, weighs in at a hefty $259.99 for a ‘lifetime’ license.
Whether it always performs as advertised is up for debate but there are videos showing it in action on Amazon and other platforms quickly downloading files, rather than attempting to record the screen.
Aside from living up to the significant functional claims in its marketing, the big questions revolve around legality. Is it permissible to download and keep copies of movies and TV shows if you’ve paid for a legal subscription? Do the streaming services allow users to make copies and is this type of software legal?
Before tackling more serious matters, a quick look at legal streaming services’ subscriber agreements provides a wealth of information. Netflix, for example, is extremely clear that using tools such as StreamFab to make copies is expressly forbidden.
Disney’s subscriber agreement is equally strict. For reasons that aren’t exactly clear, the Disney+ website also denies visitors the ability to copy and paste the text of the agreement. Still, here’s the relevant section.
You agree that as a condition of your license, you will not: i. circumvent or disable any content protection system or digital rights management technology used in connection with the Disney Product; ii. copy the Disney Product (except as expressly permitted by us); iii. rebroadcast, transmit or perform the Disney Product;
There’s no real need to check out the agreements on other platforms since a basic rule tends to apply.
If a service does not give users the ability to download and store DRM-free copies of videos as standard, the terms and conditions are guaranteed to forbid these actions. Anyone who breaches their legal agreement with a platform is, at a minimum, in breach of relevant contract law. We’ve never heard of a case where anyone has been taken to court but legal documents are named as such for a reason.
Copyright Law and DRM
Due to geographical issues, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all advice when it comes to copying content for personal use. Even when such copying is allowed there tend to be restrictions, such as owning an original copy and making a backup, or conditional on the payment of a blank media levy. That said, making a copy of anything from an illegal copy or an unlicensed source is generally forbidden.
In the case of streaming services like Netflix, they are extremely clear that the license granted to the user outlaws any kind of copying beyond that expressly permitted in the subscriber agreement. Any copying outside that generates an unlicensed copy which is obviously a copyright issue. All of this, however, is already jumping the gun.
All major streaming services are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) tools that attempt to enforce the restrictions laid out in the subscriber agreement, i.e no circumvention of content protection measures and no unlicensed copying. This means that the use of software such as StreamFab is effectively outlawed by a legally binding document and also by copyright law.
Rules in the United States are particularly clear. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has provisions that make it unlawful to circumvent technological measures used to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted works, including movies and TV shows.
This covers the decryption of an encrypted work or any other technique to “bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure” without the authority of the copyright owner. This applies to all of the streaming services mentioned above.
The DMCA also makes it unlawful to manufacture, import, provide or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that is “primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner.”
Given the clarity, there’s no real need to highlight why a tool designed to circumvent DRM and make unlicensed copies likely falls foul of the above, even given the existence of a lengthy disclaimer.
StreamFab is a Progression of DVDFab
StreamFab claims to be a sub-brand of DVDFab, a popular piece of software used to copy DVD and Blu-ray discs. Following a lawsuit filed by AACS, the decryption licensing group founded by movie studios and technology partners including Warner Bros, Disney, Microsoft and Intel, in 2014 a New York court ordered the seizure of DVDFab’s domains, bank funds and social media accounts.
The order was handed down following claims by AACS that by providing tools to bypass disc encryption, DVDFab violated the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions. In 2016, AACS told the Court that DVDFab had blatantly ignored its injunction and was continuing to conduct business as usual.
StreamFab’s ‘Anti-Piracy’ Measures
Finally, it should go without saying that uploading any copies of movies or TV shows to the internet carries risks but in the case of StreamFab users, things get even more complicated. Buried inside a lengthy statement on the StreamFab site is a warning that content ripped from services such as Netflix can be traced right back to the user – not by the streaming service but by StreamFab itself.
“Please understand that whoever wants the same benefits, whoever wants to do the same cool high-resolution TV episodes as yourself, whether a friend, a coworker or someone else on the Internet, they all need to get their own streaming platform accounts and downloader license,” it reads.
“Therefore we took one step further to help anyone who’s willing to share content to think harder before deciding to do so. We’ve included the customer/account id in the metadata of the files extracted from streaming platforms. For our majority of users, that understand that the files are strictly for personal use, that piece of info has no importance since the files never leave their own personal storages.”