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I may (or may not) have built my own Netflix competitor. It had more content than all of the major providers combined.

Legal buffer: I will not say what the content was. It may have all been non-copyrighted cat videos ;)

The service was available cross region. Stored videos in multiple resolutions for streamability in low-bandwidth situations. No DRM bs. It cost me under $400/month to run the whole service, and I could access it from any device, anywhere I had internet.

I gave access to a few friends and family and they all chipped in to help cover expenses (it was never profitable). I ran it for a few months before I started to lose interest in maintaining it - it was mostly just a proof-of-concept, and fell back to Netflix/HBO/other subs for convenience.

I applaud Netflix, HBO, etc for offering competitive solutions to monopolistic cable companies and other restrictive media outlets, but this will always remain a problem.

Once you create a piece of art and put it out for the world to see, you cannot control how/when/where it will be shown. Stop trying... Just make it more convenient for people to pay to view it.

Going after people for low-level copyright violation, like sharing a password, is childish.






>Legal buffer: I will not say what the content was. It may have all been non-copyrighted cat videos ;)

Cat videos are far more enjoyable to watch than the dreck that Hollywood is putting out these days.


I don't know how pervasive the act of trying to fit into rules for a Chinese audience is, but the fact that all of cape-movies are made to fit in gave me some tangible reason to say why I find them so empty and lame (and you should to!).

It's also really strange given how much the opposite web content is becoming. With patreon, we're starting to get some seriously fringe content, and the streaming services don't seem to be too afraid of having an opinion either.


I don't think it's just the "rules" for a Chinese audience (though that doesn't help); I think it's the economics of making movies primarily for a global audience, rather than a particular language, culture, or even sub-culture. This was an "aha" moment in realizing why so many movies over the last decade contain seemingly lazy, blunt dialogue, lacking subtlety or subtext: the meaning needs to come across clearly in subtitles and dubs, divorced from English idioms, cultural context, and intonation.

It's quite simple: mass market content is made for the lowest common denominator. See also, Jack of all trades, master of none.

It's not a phenomena unique to movies, or the modern international economy, it's a pattern that pops up all over the place. Look at multi-tool pocket knives: capable of doing many things, but mediocre at everything.


And as you expand to a global audience, the lowest common denominator gets lower.

That doesn't necessarily follow.

I mean, mathematically it certainly does, but maybe the metaphor is getting a bit strained.

You don't need any fancy word play to express the types of ideas that seem so hollowingly void in these movies.

Dude ...

This comes off as incredibly self-entitled and arrogant.

That piece of art? It takes years and tremendous amount of people hours to bring these films into existence your enjoyment. I grew up in Hollywood, in family of filmmakers. My friends are actors, producers, and well anybody else who is involved in the business - and we all dedicate unbelievable hours of love and labor into the “non copyrighted cat videos”

Yes. The system isn’t perfect, but ... what you’re doing is quite frankly, stealing. It’s offensive. We’re entitled to our livelihoods as much as you are.

Show some gratitude please.


I can concede that I am certainly self-entitled and arrogant in many ways, but I fail to see how I am being so here.

This project was built as a fun proof-of-concept. Less than a dozen people used it, and none of them cancelled their other paid services to use it. Also, like I mentioned, it was never profitable and I never made any money off of it.

Also this is coming from a fellow content creator, of many types (music, short videos, random pieces of art). Never once have I thought that anyone owes me anything for it. Unless I'm hired to shoot a video, or design something, I can't think of a more self-entitled and arrogant state of mind to be in, than to expect someone to give me gratitude because I spent time doing something I love. Doing what you love isn't enough self-gratitude for time well spent?

The only real argument that will get people to give money for dedication to an art is the appeal to pity. It's "I am pursuing my dreams and dedicating time to building something I love, I would really appreciate financial support for it so that I can continue to do so". The second the tone switches to, "I am owed gratitude in the form of money for this masterpiece I have created", is the second I will pirate that shit into oblivion.

Imagining that people loved my content so much that some would even go to illegal means to enjoy it, is a compliment to me.

Also, this appeal, is the reason that I pay for most all of the media I consume - music, movies/TV, games, concerts, etc. It is my way of showing appreciation because I can afford to, and choose to.

Having some appreciation that people actually give enough of a shit about the art you create that they'll try to get to it illegally, that's a mindset to strive for. If they pay for it, damn... you're doing good.


You’re bragging about stealing the movies and distributing them.

That’s not cool. Simple.


No, OP is bragging about building a content delivery service, what was being distributed is completely irrelevant. For all we know it was legally purchased physical media that was ripped into a digital format to facilitate sharing the media without having to mail it back and forth.

The point is, it's not that hard to build Netflix, it's hard to get the rights to the content itself. I, and many others, just want an easier way to get access to the content. Streaming services are frustrating because the selection is limited and varies, buying digital copies is frustrating because you are still beholden to the company you bought it from to support whatever devices you want to use it on.

I have absolutely no problem with paying for content, I have a problem with being locked into a specific DRM-scheme, especially when the price is essentially the same as physical media that I could rip myself to do whatever I want with. Just let me buy/rent DRM-free content and I won't be tempted to pirate. The problem is that piracy is often easier than the legal method, and when that happens, people will prefer to pirate.

For example, Netflix didn't work on Linux for quite a while. When it finally did, I was locked in to using a specific binary blob on my machine, so I have no idea if it's actually secure. If I choose to use another platform (let's say I experiment with RISCV or POWER9 devices), I'm again out of luck with most streaming services.

Why can't I just buy an MP4 of a movie and use whatever software I want to watch it? If that was an option, I'd buy a lot more movies, but since it's not, I suffer through the crappy selection on Amazon Prime and Netflix, not wanting to build too much of a library on Amazon or any other digital video platform.


If you are paying for a Netflix subscription and a movie comes on over the air you are legally allowed to timeshift and record the OTA show for later consumption. So what’s stopping the other direction, timeshifting (or pirating) and not watching until it’s available on a service you paid for?

You are allowed to backup a movie for your records, which means you can record Netflix shows for later consumption. Those backed up shows watched later are not counted by Netflix’s algorithm, so that production company is not paid.

I’m not supporting one side or the other, I’m raising awareness that IP theft is not so simple when the production companies are still getting paid even with loopholes in the regulation


The project sounds pretty cool.

You come off as self-entitled for believing that everyone should adhere to your system of values which includes the particular expectations for compensation of your work.

I grew up around musicians. Musicians steal and pirate themselves all the time. Nobody will bat an eye if you pirate their music. Being poor themselves most know that affording a concert or paying for legal music can be a hassle so they don't bust people's balls.

I've pirated tons of music myself. I've also spent thousands of dollars in vinyl, potentially tens of thousands in festivals with their associated costs and merch, and have spend more money in building a sound system for parties that I have no possibility of ever recovering.

Art doesn't entitle you to a livelihood. If you don't like the level of compensation, get a day job and do it for kicks like the vast majority of people do.


It's not that you can't make money. It's that this particular business model doesn't jibe with reality. There's a reason iTunes switched to DRM-free formats early on. For video games, piracy can actually increase profits, because people really like a try-before-you-buy model. (Piracy is not as helpful for movies.) It's possible, actually not super difficult, to make money for "bringing films into existence" without trying to keep 100% control over distribution. Check out all the Patreon accounts that put out freely-available YouTube videos for a trivial example.

Paying for content to consume is a perfectly valid business model and has done extremely well for music and video streaming.

It seems that you specifically do not like the deal, which is fine of course, but that doesn't excuse stealing and copying content that you didn't pay for.


Or, you could just not watch what you haven't paid for.

That's one option among several. For example, don't take money for content the user hasn't experienced yet.

It's also the only legal option for the audience to take. The companies who own the copyright make the content available under certain terms. Don't like the terms? DON'T WATCH THE FUCKING CONTENT. If you do somehow contrive to watch the content despite not accepting the terms, then you are stealing and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Capisce?

How rich that you speak about law, yet insist calling it “stealing”, when the law is very clear that copyright infringement or breaking a civil agreement is not stealing.

> There's a reason iTunes switched to DRM-free formats early on.

iTunes has spent the last five years very aggressively moving away from that to subscription revenue because it makes no money.


That's like saying that "trying to prevent kids from doing hard drugs doesn't jibe with reality". Piracy of entertainment content is straight-up immoral, and the only reason it's not viable as a business model is because certain groups of people actively work to prevent it from being such.

You can deal with people in good faith. You don't have to be so cynical as to think that piracy is going to kill your business or livelihood. Game of Thrones was HBO's most-pirated show and also one of the most profitable shows of all time. There are whole stores like GOG that are DRM-free because piracy is not the biggest barrier to making a profit. Getting your content to people and letting them give you money are the important parts.

There isn't anyway of knowing it was the most profitable unless you can prove that the number of people who signed up for HBO because of GOT was enough of an increase to make up for the cost.

Maybe? But I haven't seen any surveys.


HBO knows how many people watched, yeah. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-television-gameofthrones/... Here's an estimate of the costs and revenues. https://decider.com/2019/05/21/game-of-thrones-hbo-profits/ ThinkMoney had a somewhat lower estimate but they don't say how they got those numbers. https://www.finance-monthly.com/2019/05/how-much-money-has-h...

Still stealing.

The dude above is freely admitting to grabbing movies wholesale and distributing them in a glib manner. And I’m addressing him, because it’s wrong. I’m the guy on the other end of the economic equation.

End of the day it’s a choice to do the right thing and respect the artists behind the work you enjoy regardless what the “reality” is.


Not even remotely close to stealing. Stealing causes an actual loss to the victim - they owned an item which is worth money, and now they don't. Copyright infringement, OTOH, causes a potential loss to the 'victim'.

The copyright industry's propaganda about 'piracy = theft' is based on the frankly absurd concept that anyone who pirates media would have paid for it had piracy not been an option. This claim doesn't hold up to the slighted shred of scrutiny.

>End of the day it’s a choice to do the right thing and respect the artists behind the work you enjoy regardless what the “reality” is.

Except when you pay money for TV, movies or video games, your money either doesn't go to the artists behind it, or very little of it does. Rather, the money goes to the investors who funded the work, or the publisher contracted with the musician. The real people lacking respect for artists are the publishers/record labels whose entire contribution to the process is making the initial investment, paying artists the bare minimum - and moaning about internet pirates, it seems.


> Except when you pay money for TV, movies or video games, your money either doesn't go to the artists behind it, or very little of it does. Rather, the money goes to the investors who funded the work, or the publisher contracted with the musician.

This is the reality with any industry that has lots of "losers" for every winner. What you don't see is the massive amount of money lost by these same investors on media that doesn't hit. Returns on the winners have to be high enough to justify continued investment in the space. Media isn't created for free.


It's not stealing but it is illegal copying. You're gaining the same experience as someone who did pay for it.

It's unauthorized distribution.

You don't get in trouble for copying a licensed work, you get in trouble for making it available to others without permission from the current rights holder (or more likely, their hired thugs or your ISP).

How would Fair Use and libraries work if copying alone were illegal?


> How would Fair Use and libraries work if copying alone were illegal?

Libraries pay content owners in virtually every country in the world.


Well Fair Use is specifically about copying limited parts. Public libraries? How are they copying things?

Libraries provide both a system and the materials for facilitating the reproduction of copyrighted works.

They also don't pay publishers or content creators every time a material is consumed, and they don't employ DRM to ensure that people aren't violating the licences of works that are being checked out. In fact, they don't keep records of people while inside the library, so a content creator can't control how their products are being used and by whom. There are surely some DMCA violations happening at any given moment.

Copyright is an exception to natural behavior.


Libraries do not reproduce anything. They buy original copies and lend them out. Renting is a perfectly valid business model, and in this case it's paid by taxes.

But just because it's easy to copy does not make it legal.


>Dude ...

>This comes off as incredibly self-entitled and arrogant.

>That ~~piece of art~~ bag of Rice? It takes years and tremendous amount of people hours to bring these ~~films~~ grains of rice into existence your enjoyment. I grew up in ~~Hollywood~~ a farm, in family of ~~filmmakers~~ farmers. My friends are ~~actors, producers~~ farmer, harvesters, and well anybody else who is involved in the business - and we all dedicate unbelievable hours of love and labor into the ~~“non copyrighted cat videos”~~ bags of rice

>Yes. The system isn’t perfect, but ... what you’re doing is quite frankly, stealing. It’s offensive. We’re entitled to our livelihoods as much as you are.

>Show some gratitude please.

Now that I have changed the object that is "being protected", do you see how unreasonable and senseless your argument is?

Those arguments you used could be used exactly as they are to argue for any monopoly whatsoever, and then we would all be worse off.

Of course you're entitled to try to make a living, but if you making a living requires the state to subsidize and enforce your business model, then maybe you should change your business model.

There have been artists, writers and inventors for millenia, and for the vast majority of time they haven't needed an intellectual monopoly l, so why do you ?


I don't see how changing the commodity from media to rice improves your argument, if anything it weakens it. Of course people who grow your food need to be compensated for it! Otherwise they'll stop growing your food. You're not entitled to steal rice from food manufacturers.

Secondly media is far more complex than the art we've had for millenia. The sheer amount of resources to create a modern movie dwarfs what artists have created in the past, its comparing apples to oranges.


and the state enforces and subsidizes every business model.

The laws against theft, contract law, corporate law, tax law, equities laws, real estate law are there to allow business to be done in a secure trustable way.

Subsidies exist for all businesses like roads, electricity, farm subsidies, tariffs, protect business models, and allow businesses to transport goods for a low cost or protect them from competition.


> There have been artists, writers and inventors for millenia, and for the vast majority of time they haven't needed an intellectual monopoly l, so why do you ?

Isn't this argument completely wrong/pointless considering reproduction was close to impossible until the last ~20 years? If nobody can access/copy my product, i don't need to protect it much...


I think the poster is upset about DRM, not paying money. It should be easy to pay and own the content, but nowadays it's not easy.

In past I paid for some content multiple times for instance, because one company decides to shut down their DRM servers, and then I had to buy it again from elsewhere. Yeah, just like that - I was frankly very upset.

Also, piracy is different to stealing. Both are wrong in my opinion, but still very, very different things!


No, they just like stealing, and we're not really going to solve this issue until people like them are imprisoned.

I think the bragging here is “I beat the man”

At a complete guess i would say most people (with ok paying jobs) that pirate do so because they think the charges are so high they amount to theft + the whole stealing from a thief is ok

Look at how much Tom cruise or the rock have made from movies or the upper layer of studio cucumber water,egg white omelette employee. There is a massive amount of profiteering on movies. Of course indie and a whole lot of roles are done by people getting normal wages. If the rock took a 50,000,000 pay cut and the studio cut their extravagance the steaming cost will come down, but they choose to profiteer because they can pushing up streaming costs


It's especially obnoxious because, unlike educational materials or programming tools, you can't make an ethical argument that the content impacts the quality of life of people who receive it. It's entertainment, and so nobody is entitled to access it, ever - you must pay for the right, and the price and terms are entirely up to the owner to set however they like.

> It's entertainment, and so nobody is entitled to access it, ever

You seem to have been indoctrinated by the big media companies, to believe their profit-maximising false narrative. Copyright was designed to terminate, at which point everyone is entitled to the material. Media companies have repeatedly pushed law changes that are purely in their own interest, to extend the original fairly reasonable short terms to what they are today, "forever" for most purposes.


Pirates watch plenty of movies and TV newer than the original 14 year copyright term.

People aren’t getting too worried about people pirating Gunsmoke or whatever.


Sure, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the belief that it is fair and just for all this media to be controlled by a few companies forever. The person I replied to said "nobody is entitled to access it, ever", and I think it's very unfortunate for anyone to believe that.

First-sale doctrine means that, generally, creators don't have any control of their product after they have sold it to someone else. Intellectual property is not an inherent right in the US constitution. In fact the only purpose is to promote artists and inventors - a kind of subsidy. The legal exclusivity is a gift from society, not something that is owed to the creator.

I see your point, but look at all the accounts of "this [movie|book|album] changed my life." There's a reason why well-read people and cineasts are respected (by some)

I use the free version of plex. Only pain in the ass is having to pay the ~$5 to authorize for a new android device to use the app.

It does everything I need to watch my...personal home videos.

I'm sure I could use a completely FOSS setup, but plex is convenient especially paired with...other services.


If you want completely FOSS setup, check out Jellyfin [0], it keeps steadily improving.

[0]: https://github.com/jellyfin/jellyfin


Not ready yet. Buffer interruptions are constant and the metadata scraper often tells you you have 7 seasons of the same Star Trek: TNG (for example) episode.

Is jellyfin any good yet?

Last time I looked they didn't really have much for client apps yet.


It is not ready yet. I hope it one day can compete with Plex, but I wonder if a community OSS project like this will take off and create high quality native apps per platform.

Thanks for the update. I'll keep my eye on it though -- maybe it will get there eventually.

isnt that sort of Plex? It came from a political fork of XBMC for OS X. Some of plex is still open source, despite it having no XBMC/Kodi code anymore.

Interesting, thanks for sharing!

It's not even a copyright violation it's at best a violation of tos.

Are ToS violations still considered a CFAA violation?

In theory but this would be a great way to see how many customers you can lose in a quarter.

I am curious to know about the infra / tech stack, if you're comfortable with sharing any information.

Sure.

As @diminoten mentions, legality is questionable here, so I do not recommend. If you do dabble, restrict access, and encrypt everything so that if you lose your keys, they only option is to destroy the stack and start over.

Cloud provider of your choice

Plex media server running on a high-throughput instance, with cloud storage mounted locally for reading. (Redundantly created in multiple regions depending on where the service is being accessed from)

A separate master instance responsible for downloading content from a private torrent site, with cloud storage mounted locally for writing.

Multiple on-demand background workers that are spun up when new content is available to be reformatted in various resolutions. They pull the original video from cloud storage, create various versions, and re-upload it to the cloud storage.

The largest cost is in data usage, and storage.

@diminoten Not sure what I did to "oversell" it. I used off-the-shelf tech components, and some cloud-enginuity from experience, to build a proof-of-concept competitor. I didn't build the entire interface from scratch, or write my own OS, if that's what it sounded like.


Interesting, thanks for sharing!

Do you think it would be viable using a pool of 'a few' residential connections (think fiber >500 Mbps upload) in each region, with some x86 server behind each to transcode / store?

The idea being to self-host the whole infra between users themselves, those willing to plug a desktop/server somewhere.

I figure you'd only need a basic load balancer in an actual cloud (always on) which redirects to whichever server is available enough.

Any thought about any of this?


How many users were trying to support simultaneously? I can stream maybe four or five streams at various levels of real time transcoding on my Core I3. But I do have about 900Mbps up.

$400/month and multiple cloud instances sounds like overkill though. The same could probably be achieved with a Raspberry Pi or Intel NUC on your home network. Maybe an RPi wouldn't be great for multiple reencodings, but I don't think that's really needed. How often do you really want to watch low resolution TV-series on your mobile data connection?

One feature I haven't seen on any commercial service is the ability to integrate with your IMDb watchlist, and automatically download "Linux ISOs" when they become available.


Transcoding video won't work on a Raspi (in any realistic sense), and video streaming is pretty I/O intensive if you have multiple clients.

You can certainly get a similar thing working on a Raspi, but you'll likely notice buffering issues. Especially if you try to stream different content to different clients.


Keep the hot stuff on a nvme.

Your archive on bigger drives next to it. Problem solved.

If that's not enough use zfs with a nvme cache and add a few more sticks of ram I to it.


Mine has been happily running on a Synology 1019+ NAS. It has hardware encoding and can support multiple 4k streams.

You can rent a Hetzner server for ~€25 bucks (has local storage and a good Intel CPU for live transcoding streams if needed), get infinite cloud storage for ~€10 and Plex Pass for ~€5 bucks. Add in a private domain for ~€5 per year and you're done.

Total cost ~€40.50 per month. Hetzner gives you infinite ingress and a few TB egress bandwidth per month. As long as you only give access to your box to family/close friends you'll never hit that cap. And all they need is a Plex account. Then you just invite them and the setup is done, zero technical finnicking for them.


You could run it off of a laptop sitting in your closet and be able to support 3-5 simultaneous users no problem. It'd be a benefit if you had 1GBPS symmetric fiber, though.

But yeah, RPi is rough because you do need legit CPU to transcode on the fly, which is what Plex does, and the more users the more transcoding power you need.


It's possible to cache Plex encodes, I think.

But Plex is very limited in its encoding capabilities. H265 with HDR is just not supported properly. On top of that, there is just no way to encode H265 in real time (a high quality reencode of a Bluray can take days on top of the line Xeon CPUs). One would be better off downloading a few versions of the same movie; plex supports choosing which version to play.


Why should I care about any of that? I just want to watch 30 Rock, not run an A/V store.

Flexget, flexget.com, can help with the ability to download your IMDB watchlist.

He's (possibly) overselling his accomplishment here a little bit. You can achieve what he's describing using a combination of Plex, Sonarr, Jackett, and a private torrent site. You also need a torrent client that can work with Sonarr (Synology's torrent client works great in "watch this directory" mode).

It's a truly self-running system. Other than the upgrades, you're able to select whatever shows you want to follow, and that's it. They automatically get downloaded, sorted into the right directory structure, picked up by Plex, and on-demand streaming around the world is yours, with all kinds of cool features like bandwidth optimization, offline show downloads, etc. More or less feature parity with Netflix, without any of the restrictions.

Of course it's 100% illegal, though honestly I've never heard of a prosecuted case in the US.


Anyone want a docker compose file?

Would take about 30 minutes to actually get everything up if you have most of an idea of what to do and a sloppily written guide.


Sure, post a GitHub/Gitlab link.


Sounds like you ran a plex server - amazing tech, always makes me wonder what companies like Netflix, HBO, and now Disney spend all their money on...

Users would probably be better of, if these systems would be distributed rather then centralized. Like a plex server per household or something, where family owns all the stuff they bought and can freely watch it.

What I'm looking for is a future proof stack. DRM has failed many times to deliver that.


Would you pay for a service that physically stores your DVDs, but rips them and makes the content available via Plex? It would be less of a copyright violation since the copy is made for personal use. You'd have your library available anywhere in the world and it wouldn't take up space in your house. the content would be available permanently and not subject to contract disputes with publishers. What do you think?

Not quite relevant to OP but apropos of the concept introduced above...apparently, quite a few people do pay for such a service as VidAngel (https://www.vidangel.com) is still running.

I have not kept up with their developments but it was created by Mormons to help families stream movies while filtering out content deemed not appropriate. IIRC at one point and possibly to this day the tech included a massive farm of physical disks being spun and streamed to end consumers with skip points programmed in.


They used to stream DVDs kinda like my description, but there were several kinds of copyright complaints which is why they stopped doing DVD-based content. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VidAngel

Yup, and now they only support filtering as an add-on to other streaming services, which is a completely different business.

I was interested because they had a way to rent movies for $1, which I think is a fair price for older titles (I'd actually pay $2 for older titles). I feel like their business was essentially Redbox, but with a more efficient way of transferring product from one person to another, with a layer of customizable filtering on top. That seemed completely legit to me, but apparently copyright law doesn't agree.


So let's rephrase that.

"Expecting people to pay for your service is childish."

They aren't going after people, they are just resetting passwords.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NinjaVideo

It did not end well for NinjaVideo for what it's worth so maybe it was good you lost interest.


> "Just make it more convenient for people to pay to view it"

> "I... fell back to Netflix/HBO/other subs for convenience"

Seems like they're doing a fine job then.


You did something wrong if that cost you 400$ a month

We don't know how much content OP had stored. Do you know how much public domain, 4k cat videos exist on the internet? I'm sure with enough storage, a proof-of-concept VPS with cloud storage could run that much per month.

I had about 15TB of content stored in readily available cloud storage. This was the largest cost.



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