Saturday, May 12, 2012

DVD and Blu-Ray Are Dead

DVD and Blu-Ray are dead as media for delivering movies to U.S. consumers.

I say this after reading about new government warnings that will appear on major new movie releases starting now. Nate Anderson writes at Ars Technica,

The US government yesterday rolled out not one but two copyright notices, one to "warn" and one to "educate." Six major movie studios will begin using the new notices this week. . . .

The idea isn't to deter current pirates, apparently (the new scheme requires all legal purchasers to sit through 20 seconds of warnings each time they pop in a film, but will be totally absent from pirated downloads and bootlegs). It's to educate everyone else.

From an intellectual property rights owner’s point of view (and yes, most of my own income depends on intellectual property rights), this new initiative is frighteningly similar to the series of events that killed off music CDs.

That all started with the Shakira Laundry Service CD, which a few months after its release was remastered to include “secret” computer software. The software prevented the CD from playing in many DVD players and car stereos and restricted its use on computers. The software also damaged many computers’ operating systems to the point of rendering the computers unusable. Record labels went on to give hundreds of popular new CD releases the same treatment.

No one would want to play music from a music CD that was designed to cause problems. The obvious workaround was to copy the music from the CD to a clean CD, taking the necessary precautions to protect the computer you used to make the copy. Once people started doing that, though, there were shortcuts. It was easier to obtain the tracks from someone who had already gone to the trouble of copying them from the CD. And then, it didn’t seem quite right to purchase the official CD that you couldn’t actually use. Anyway, it was sometimes easier to skip the CD and CD player entirely when you were playing music. After people got to that point, it was no surprise to see 90 percent of the record stores close over the next 18 months.

I think a new 20-second delay built into movie media just might be enough of a push to lead people down this same path for movies. A 20-second wait is not an insignificant price when compared to the entire price of purchasing a movie. It is more than long enough, and a series of sternly worded law enforcement messages crossing your screen is more than irritating enough, to be an embarrassment for the host of any movie viewing involving two or more people. Telling people that the delay is “unskippable” is just daring them to find a way to skip it. And the easiest way, I am afraid, will be to copy the movie files from the DVD to a clean DVD that doesn’t incorporate the delay. Most people don’t have the hardware to copy files from a Blu-ray, but they can get around that by purchasing the DVD edition or by purchasing a computer Blu-ray drive.

And then, once people learn how easy it is to take apart and put together the files of a DVD, they will be doing it all the time. They will quickly discover the same shortcuts they found with music CDs. And if the movie studios wait till they see this happening, that movie fans are bypassing the government warnings by bypassing the DVD player altogether, it will be too late to turn back the clock. You can’t force or entice people to start using their DVD players again, any more than you can get people to dust off their VCRs (video cassette recorders, which were immensely popular devices for playing movies until 2001).

The irony is the same as before. By asserting too much control in the effort to protect copyrights in physical media, publishers are pushing people away from physical media products, toward other media that is more easily controlled by the user, and where there are few if any protections against copyright violations. In my opinion, copyright protections are necessary, but repeating the same mistakes that the music industry made in this area will not help the movie industry avoid the same fate.