<= DeCSS Central Main Page
I assume you, the reader, know about the advantages of the DVD format -
better picture and sound quality than VHS, fully digital (doesn't degrade
over time), various additional features on many DVDs, etc.
If you own a DVD player yourself, you will also have learned about various
artificial restrictions so far. And maybe you have been wondering about why
they are there. Well, simple answers first: They are there because for all
we know, the CSS license requires that all players follow them.
You will surely have noticed those non-skippable FBI warnings at the start
of many DVDs, right? Let's for a second ignore the fact that the FBI means
nothing to, say, a canadian (also DVD region 1).
I speculate that it will not be long until the FBI warning gets either
replaced by or enhanced with - advertisement. What a great marketing
opportunity! It is virtually guaranteed that people will look at the
ads because they simply don't have a choice.
Will that mean that DVDs become free or very cheap, payed for by the ads
much like television? Don't hold your breath.
Update: It's already happening. I've been told that the DVD of
"The Best One Ever" contains an unskippable ad for RCA.
Region Coding - Price Fixing
The worst offender is region coding. DVD CCA has divided the world into six
regions, and DVDs you buy in one region can only be played in that region
(actually: On players purchased in that region). Because you just might be
moving to a different country, most hardware allows you to change the region
code - five times. After that, you've had it.
But what does this mean for you, as a DVD customer? It means that you can not
buy DVDs in your holidays and be sure that they will work at home. Relatives
or friends from abroad better not send you DVDs as presents, because they
will likely not work. And if you are a fan of something that is not readily
available in your country/region (US original releases for europeans, or
maybe anime movies for americans, etc.) - well, you're just out of luck.
But there is another, more subtle and more yet more direct effect. It's called
"price fixing" and is illegal pretty much everywhere on the planet. It means
that a consortium of sellers keep prices artificially high by some kind of
agreement between themselves.
Of course, the MPAA has too many lawyers to do that kind of stuff. What they
instead do is use region coding to make sure that neither you nor your
reseller can import DVDs from where they are cheaper. Take a look at these
spot a system there? Let's not shoot too fast, because there are also some
- The Matrix
US: $17.49 -
According to today's exchange rate
the UK DVD costs 26.96 US$ - or 54 % more than the US equivalent.
- Men in Black (limited edition)
US: $23.97 -
50 % more
- Notting Hill
US: $18.73 (Collector's Edition!) -
51 % more (and note that the (cheaper!) US version is a collector's edition)
But you can nevertheless verify yourself that US titles are usually
much less expensive than european titles. For foreign-language versions,
there might be a reason, but the above titles are all english.
Do you believe that shipping costs this much, or that there are no DVD
manufacturers at all in europe? Not likely.
Ockham's Razor says to go with the most simple answer. If there is a more
simple one then "they do it because they can", then tell me. For the time
being, this smells a lot like price-fixing. DVDs are more expensive in
europe because there is no way for europeans to get them cheaper. It works
much like CD prices, just worse because there is no way to avoid this kind
Oh, btw. - if you just rejoiced because you live in the US and are getting
everything cheaper, think again. My american friends tell me that they are
robbed in a similiar way for foreign titles, for example japanese anime.
Region Coding - Market Segmentation
In addition to different prices, there are also different distributors in
various parts of the world. For example, "Titanic" is distributed in
america by Paramount, but by 20th Century Fox everywhere else. So region
coding is the movie corporations way to divide up the market.
Did you just say "competition"? Well yes, that is the idea of a free market,
but see: Free markets are bad for the bottom line, so you really can't blame
the movie mafia to do away with them...
Region Coding - Release Delays
Since imports are impossible due to region coding, the movie corporations
also delay foreign releases until a time they consider appropriate - usually
one where they expect the most returns. While it is entirely their business
if and when to release their stuff to a market, that is by far not a reason
to make it impossible for everyone in that market to go out on his own and
get hold of the title somewhere else. While delays are usually only a
nuisance, some very good movies are never released at all in certain markets.
So unless you go with the mainstream, DVD CCA basically tells you to drop
Region Coding - Illegal?
Due to these problems, region coding is considered questionable by almost
everyone not working for a big movie company. And it has, in fact, been
declared illegal in New Zealand and is apparently under scrutiny in
How long will it take for other countries to wise up?
No More Fair Use
Copyright law tries to strike a balance between author rights and public gain.
The basic equation is this: Give authors so much that they will continue to
produce something for the general public. The emphasis is (or should
be) where I put it, on the public. That is why copyright expires and the
copyrighted work enters the public domain, and that is why copyright allows
for exceptions, called "fair use". The most-well known are educational use,
reviews or private copies.
Large corporations, and the movie studios at the very front, have successfully
perverted copyright last century, with the copyright length extended more and
more. Since World War II, no major copyright work has entered the public
Repeat: Since WW2, no major copyright work has entered the public
domain! Copyright has in effect become perpetual posession instead of the
"limited right" it should be according to law.
However, the restrictions on DVDs make even more fair-use applications
impossible. You can no longer make a copy for yourself or a friend (both
perfectly legal, at least where I live), and it is extremely difficult to
get snippets for a review, or to hand out in a classroom.
So what is going on?
Greed, most obviously. Every point above boils down to more money for the
big movie corporations. You can't skip the ads, so they're worth much more
than those on, say, VHS tapes. You can't import DVDs, so you can be charged
whatever the local distributor wants to charge you. You can't make backup
copies, so you'll have to buy another DVD if the old one breaks.
But there's also a non-money side to this: Control. The CSS issue has made it
very clear that DVD CCA and MPAA will not tolerate DVD player software that
is not subject to the terms of the CSS license. In other words: That they have
no control over.
More paranoid speculations suspect that the movie corporations want to put
us all on a rent basis, where we can not buy a movie once and watch it as
often as we want anymore, but will have to pay for every time we see the
movie. DivX was a first (failed) attempt, but most of the requirements of
a rent system are present in DVD technology. It's lacking only a subscriber
system. Should not be difficult to add...