Sunday, October 08, 2006

DVDs and the Law of Unintended Consequences

DVD iconsConsumers don't like to be ripped off. When is the movie industry going to realise this? Their greedy little minds are forever trying to come up with schemes to rip off the public and make more money, but in the end the consumer always finds a way to get even.
This weekend is a case in point. We rented a DVD from a respectable video store in the area. They are busy selling off all their old VHS videos because most people rent DVDs instead. We bought a few. We also hired a Shakespeare play, "Twelfth Night". It wouldn't play. Something about regional settings. Trust a Sony DVD player to come up with that nonsense. It's a good job I didn't buy the DVD player. I wouldn't buy a Sony one if you paid me to do so.
So when a friend popped round later in the day I asked him about this, and he mentioned a program called "DVD Shrink" that would allow me to copy the original movie onto a DVD-R, which would then work in the DVD player. I downloaded it and discovered that the movie in question was set for region 4 (Australia) instead of region 2 (Europe and South Africa). I clicked OK to accept the region setting, and then ripped the DVD.
Everything worked fine until I tried "Much Ado About Nothing", whereupon I was told that I needed to change my regional setting back to 2, and that I only had 3 changes left. What!? A quick look at the properties of my DVD hardware confirmed the bad news. Every time you change a region the hardware gets messed with.
It's a good job that Microsoft had the good manners to let me know. I guess their programmers have been stung by this before. Anyway, I was now fed up that simply because someone sent the wrong zone DVD to our shop, I was damned if my hardware would get damaged in the process. A quick search of my hardware model led me to this site, which explains why DVD drives are defective by design.
I also tracked down "DVD Region Killer", a program that bypasses the problem, and "DiscInfo", a program that tells you the state of your DVD hardware.
So in order to protect my own hardware I am forced to bypass the manuafacturer's greedy DRM system. In the process I have been introduced to a cheap and effective way of copying rented DVDs. We tried recording a scene from "Chariots of Fire" from DVD to VHS tape for Penny's teaching prac, with disasterous results. Now we'll just copy the entire movie instead.
That's the Law of Unintended Consequences: They tried to stop me from renting pirate DVDs, and all they succeeded in doing was force me to find out how to copy legitimate ones instead. Here's another unintended consequence: by preventing people from taping DVDs onto VHS, they supposedly encouraged consumers to buy DVD players and buy DVD copies of movies they already own. The people who spent the most money in this way were, of course, the video rental shops. Now they are having to sell off their old VHS tapes because consumers want to rent the DVD instead. The movie companies are screwing their own distribution chain. Once consumers find how simple and easy it is to keep a copy of the rented DVD, they may stop buying fake DVDs from the people who sell them at the traffic lights. Was that the intended consequence? I doubt it.
If you are a movie industry lawyer reading this, consider the following before you sue me: I have already paid royalties to your company by purchasing the DVD drive in my laptop. It was nice of you to pass on 0% of this royalty to your artists. Secondly, I have paid another royalty when I bought the blank DVR-R disc, even though most of the discs are used for data backups. Again, 0% goes to the artists. Thirdly, I will have paid a third royalty when I rent the DVD from the video shop. Thank you for passing on a 1% royalty to the artists. You are most generous.

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