HBO recently produced a fantastic series of historical fiction called Rome, the first season of which is currently out on DVD. I grabbed a box off the shelf with the intention of buying it as a present, and nearly choked on the $90 CDN price tag for 12 episodes. But hey, it’s Christmas, and what better time of year to over-spend on a loved one?
Then I made a nasty little discovery. On the back of the box, down in small type at the bottom, was a little logo and notification I had never seen before. It read, “This DVD is copy protected and may be played only on licensed devices.”
This warning must have come about in the past year or two as my older DVDs are all free of it, but it’s now on just about everything else in the store that I looked at to compare. And it set off all sorts of warning bells in my head. I asked the retail clerk — and then his manager — what the store policy would be if the DVDs were unplayable in whatever device the intended recipient had (which I would not know in advance). Would the store take them back opened?
Of course not, due to “copyright issues”. I suppose that’s in place if I were to copy the discs and then return them; isn’t it interesting that the studios’ confidence in their copyright-protection mechanism doesn’t allow a change in that policy?
I then asked, since the only way to determine whether the DVDs are playable would be buying and opening them, and if it turns out they aren’t, would I have ended up buying a completely useless $90 Christmas present? Yes, they agreed, that was about the size of it.
I realize that many people happily buy DVDs without giving the issue a second thought, and that in all likelihood this set would have worked on just about anything the intended recipient has today, since I doubt they possess any sort of DVD-writing device. What about in 2 years from now though… will that continue to be true? Is DRM so far off the general public’s radar that people are really spending this kind of money on entertainment that may very well not be useable in a few years’ time?
The escalating arms race between content providers and their customers leads me to seriously doubt the longevity of any sort of media that actively breaks compatibility today. And at $90, I’m not willing to find out. I shelved the set, walked out, and bought the intended recipient a DRM-free set of Henckels. I suspect we’ll have a much merrier Christmas for it.