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Merry DRM-mas

December 18, 2006

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?

This DVD is copy protected and may be played only on licensed devices.

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.

Reader Comments

Jason says:
December 18, 17h

I can’t help but think that all of these companies are setting themselves up for failure with all the DRM stuff.

Pirating is wrong.. True.. But with these new DRM schemes they are scaring away customers..

I have had my own issues with DRM and it makes me not want to touch anything with it.. So suddenly they have lost a customer, and it doesn’t stop the pirating..

I really think the whole DRM thing is going the wrong way..

eric says:
December 18, 17h

You are correct that it is ironic that the stores won’t accept returns of DRM protected DVDs. The only logical conclusion is that there are contractural agreements between the content producers and retailers to not allow them to resell opened or returned merchandise.

So it appears that the content producers stopped trusting consumers a long time ago by not allowing returns, and now trusts them even less by imposing DRM restrictions. I guess they also have a low opinion of our intelligence by assuming we’ll gleefully spend money on content that will be unplayable and useless in a short time.

Dave S. says:
December 18, 17h

“The only logical conclusion is that there are contractural agreements between the content producers and retailers to not allow them to resell opened or returned merchandise.”

Yeah, I really don’t blame the store here; they’ve likely been told to do it one way, and the industry has then gone on to change the rules of the game without ever telling them to stop. And, given the current trajectory, likely never will.

“I guess they also have a low opinion of our intelligence by assuming we’ll gleefully spend money on content that will be unplayable and useless in a short time.”

Exactly. I was going to spend $90, the profit margin had to have been generous. The only way to send the message back is with my wallet.

Of course, they’ll just blame piracy.

anonymous says:
December 18, 17h


I have been traveling overseas and there are great knock-offs of that series already out. Seems like there copy protection doesn’t work as well as they would like.

December 18, 17h

Yes, it is much easier to download movie then buy it. I am not talkin g about price here. I have one DVD at home, which doesn’t play. It was present from my wife and it was spoiled mood for everyone at the birthday party. I will not buy aby DVD any more, unless they are free of all this BS.

Mau says:
December 18, 19h


Excuse my ignorance. What are the devices that can play these DVDs?

Are these Blu-Ray?

I am pretty sure that you will not be able to play ‘em in your laptop or desktop?

It’s just lame.

December 18, 19h

Dave, I ran into this same issue a little over a year ago when it came to Sony’s copy protected CDs. I had to seriously question their DRM policies - - and came out with a lot of “ill-will” towards Sony. The question I kept coming back to though was this: is DRM really good for anyone?

December 18, 19h

Why not make the discs cheap enough to buy in the first place? I really think some of the drm schemes for movies aren’t just to protect against consumers from pirating the movie but to keep some of their best clients in business—rental stores. Think about how much business Blockbuster (for example) gives Hollywood studios by purchasing all those new releases for store shelves (“guaranteed in stock!”). I’m sure they get a discount but it’s a moot point—from a consumer’s standpoint, why buy the disc (for $19) when you can rent essentially the same version (and subsequently copy it) for $3?

Dave S. says:
December 18, 19h

“Excuse my ignorance. What are the devices that can play these DVDs? Are these Blu-Ray?”

No, this is not Blu-Ray I’m talking about, but your regular old every day DVDs.

I’d imagine the average read-only DVD drive would play these, and perhaps drives within electronics like an XBox or something, provided there was no write capacity. It seems like everyone I talked to was confident these wouldn’t play in a DVD writer, so playing them in a Mac would likely be out.

The fact I have to speculate like this is really the point here. Will it play? Won’t it play? I’m the one out of pocket if it doesn’t, since I have no hope of getting a refund.

December 18, 19h

This is exactly why I refuse to upgrade from DVD to DVD-HD/Blu-Ray: DRM, and nothing else. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that warning on future purchase; thanks for the heads-up, Dave.

December 18, 20h

I actually had a problem playing one such disc on an older DVD player I owned earlier this year. After returning to the store to complain that the movie did not play in my DVD player I was treated like a criminal as both the employee and manager accused me of wanting to return an item I apparently ‘copied’. Explaining I wanted to exchange, not return the DVD did no good as they proceeded to march me over to the TV/Video department and play the disc in one of their new players. I was quite teed-off after that and proceeded to make a rather loud scene in the middle of the store calling these two employees idiots who knew nothing about electronics. I actually went back home, grabbed my player and ten discs I already owned went back to the store went straight to the TV department, hooked up my old player to a new Plasma and began yelling at the employees again until they backed off and allowed me to exchange the disc. Of course by then I told them I wasn’t interested in another copy since they proved to me that the disc had a manufacturing problem and besides I didn’t feel like a respected customer at that point.

I walked out with my $12.99 in pocket and lost about three hours of my life. Any other product and it would have been a quick trip to the return counter and back to my place with an exchange, but with DVDs or CDs you considered guilty until proven innocent. BTW I don’t shop at that store anymore.

December 18, 21h

I really consider DRM to be stupid. It never curbs piracy. The more they DRM things the more piracy seems to be a viable solution in my opinion. Sooner or later it’ll be much better to download a movie than buy it. I have a rather extensive DVD library. I believe that a DVD is worth the money if it is playable. I don’t rip DVDs even though I know how. I play DVDs on my Mac using Front Row. I would be quite angry if a DVD I bought didn’t work on my Mac. The first season box set of Rome does play on my Mac, though. Most of the copy protection lately seems to be gearing towards region free DVD players, recorders, and drives. One of my DVD burner drives on my Mac is region free, but the other isn’t. The Rome ones play in both actually, so I don’t really know what devices the discs wouldn’t play in.

Music is another story. If a song isn’t offered on iTunes it’s the old piracy game for me. If they won’t cater to the public and provide their music on iTunes they don’t need nor do they deserve my money. I make exceptions for Japanese music, but I do wish they did offer more of it.

Sony had this ridiculous copy protection on Japanese music CDs a while back where it would say in big bold lettering on the shrink wrap around the jewel case that the CD wouldn’t play on a Macintosh while you would need special software to be able to play the CD on your Windows PC. I popped a disc in, opened up iTunes and ripped it without any trouble whatsoever. OS X treated the disc as a partitioned disc with the copy protection BS on one partition and the music on the other. I about laughed my off. I never saw copy protection that easy to crack.

In the end these entertainment companies are shooting themselves in the foot.

December 18, 21h

Sounds like you made the best choice possible Dave. The only way to show the movie industry that this is unacceptable (in a manner they’ll actually listen to) is with our pocketbooks. If they see that DRM’d movies don’t sell as well as traditional DVDs, they’ll have no choice but to make changes.

Though as I write this I just thought that what they’ll probably do is blame the lack of sales on piracy, and then use that to enact even stricter legistation to outlaw ‘fair use’ completely.

Gavin j says:
December 18, 23h

Hi Dave,
I wonder if it would help if you made a point of informing the store you didn’t buy it *because* of DRM and the fear that it won’t play.

Walk up to the counter with the DVD, let them know, and leave it at the counter. If enough people did this it could send a message that DRM is affecting their sales.

Else (as Josh Johnson said) they will just blame it on piracy, or the content wasn’t popular enough.

I am sick of being accused a “pirate” – my shelves of DVDs, CDs and Laserdiscs (remember them?) say otherwise.

December 19, 00h

It really just shows how old fashioned and narrow minded to record and movie industry is.

At these times where more and more companies try to improve communication with customers, be innovative and better at fulfilling customers needs, the record / movie industry goes the opposite way in an attempt to protect themselves from the evolution. Where they should have just tried to come up with better solutions they’re just annoying and frightening consumers who are actually willing to pay. And it’s not like it’s ever been a problem to copy a cd or dvd.

Why don’t they try to give me at great experience with their products since I’m a paying customer - the kind of consumers they should focus on.

December 19, 04h

How are you supposed to know what a “licensed device” is? The warning label is rather vague, and gives no indication of which devices may be incompatible.

I recently bought a PC based around the Media Center edition of Windows. I use the HDTV as a monitor, and I’ve got a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. The idea was to ditch my standalone DVD player and use the device in the PC. I intended to add a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD drive (depending on the outcome of that little format war) to the PC to extend the capabilities of the system. Having a “media center” that could do everything was supposed to be the Next Big Thing.

DRM makes it likely that there will be an increasing percentage of DVDs that simply will not play on my preferred system. I’m starting to get worried about the DVDs I’ll be renting with my online Blockbuster account too. When I start getting one of the HD disc formats, I may run into serious stumbling blocks if the PC drive is not one of these “licensed devices”.

It is inconceivable to me that this state of affairs can continue for much longer. The internet has spectacularly demonstrated the advantages and value of interoperability and compatibility, and the “general public” now expects this behavior in technology. When sufficient numbers of the public are inconvenienced by DRM measures, I am confident there will be some sort of backlash.

Mark McNally says:
December 19, 05h

Like many others here I am avid lover of music and films and have quite an extensive cd and dvd collection by now as I believe in the value of the product, I can do what ever I want with it, my collection is so extensive that I spent nearly a year (not solidly of course, I do have a job, lol) ripping my music collection to mp3 and I’m at bursting point storage wise, so would dearly love to purchase more electronically, however with DRM on music as it is in most cases I would have to re-rip via CD the downloaded file to remove any protection just so I can play it on my phone, laptop, car stereo or whereever I choose then throw away the cd (yay, great one for the environment!) at the moment I use only eMusic as that is the only place that doesn’t require me to install anything or do anything else to listen to my music the way I want, so if a track isn’t available on there where should I find it ? ?

I won’t and will never pay money for anything that contains DRM!

Sander says:
December 19, 05h

As far as I can tell - as checking my DVD collection, I turn out to have two discs with this same logo on it - there is no new DRM associated with it - just plain old broken CSS, same as always. (One of the two discs has one of those broken autorun windows installers for some kind of videoplayer that’ll hijack your system or somesuch, but I’ve seen the same on discs without the logo, and the other disc with the logo doesn’t have that.)
So the only thing “new” is the logo to make consumers aware of the CSS “protection”.

Every DVD I purchase is immediately copied onto my harddisk, and then goes in storage as backup, (same as with CDs, except without transcoding, as I don’t think there’s anything lossless for movies to convert to), and these two discs copied over just as easily as anything else.

Of course, that doesn’t change your central point a single bit. DRM is so very much the wrong thing to do for these companies, and making customers have to think about it is so going to cost them…

I didn’t start buying DVDs until last year (seriously, before that I only owned VHS videos, and basically didn’t buy movies at all) as only then did I gain enough confidence that between VLC and large harddisks I would _always_ be able to watch _my_ movies if I’d buy them on DVD.

I will not buy anything with effective DRM. I will never buy anything which comes with product activation. (*sobs for missed Photoshop upgrades since 7*) I will not buy anything that used to be open and then had DRM bolted on like those crippled discs with rootkits and whatnot.
And anytime I _don’t_ buy something like that, the money goes into the mental jar of money reserved to buy an extra CD from an independent artist at the next concert I attend. I’ve been growing my music collection quite a bit with that policy… :)

paul says:
December 19, 06h

my policy (in my head) about this and anything else in life is to give respect at first, then if you get pissed off because the other person is stupid, you don’t have to give any respect.

so in this situation, if you looked at your dvd-player and there’s no glaring sticker or something saying it’ll play drm, and if you scan the manufacturer’s site for drm notices, and you don’t get any answers, you’re free to _borrow_ what you want to watch by other means.

December 19, 07h

The only way I would accept DRM is if the music and movie industries had a completely on-demand content delivery system. And I’m talking small FRACTIONS of pennies per song for that. Not some bloated number the music and movie industries would likely come up with.

I think everybody would win in that situation. Artists get paid for how much their music actually gets used, so if they make throw-away songs that won’t be listened to in a year, that’s exactly the compensation they will get. You could listen to whatever songs and watch whatever movies you want when you want, and format no longer matters. When the new-fangled-3D-technology versions of all our favorite movies come out, or the new high-high-high-def versions of our favorite music comes out, you get the upgrades on everything you watch or listen to automatically without having to re-buy it all.

How I long for the days where hard formats are obsolete! Of course, as slow as fiber is propagating in the US, I’m not holding my breath. And I don’t trust the movie or music industries to come up with fair pricing schemes in such a system either. *sigh*

December 19, 07h

Interesting post and comments.

For a vaguely related “customers are treated as criminals” rant, worth seeing Andy Budd’s recent post on Adobe -

Question to those stateside, Canada etc - do you have any stores that openly allow trial of, say, CDs which you can return if it’s not to your liking? Over here (UK), FOPP have a “suck it and see” policy - full money back if you get a CD home and decide it sucks (don’t know if it extends to DVDs) and I think other stores do it too.

MacDara says:
December 19, 08h

An additional question: don’t you have any statutory rights on your side of the pond?

Here in Ireland (and presumably it’s the same case in the UK) stores are legally obliged to give a refund or a replacement if a product isn’t fit for its purpose, under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act. A good example would be a non-Red Book standard CD, many of which don’t play in car stereos: unless the packaging explicitly states that it isn’t a ‘real’ CD, then you can return it no bother.

And even at that, most retailers are happy to allow returns on products that may have been bad choices, unwanted gifts, etc within 2 or 3 weeks, provided they’re in a re-sellable condition and you have the receipt.

I used to work at a large chain music/DVD retailer, and we did this all the time, didn’t even think about it. Sure, we had a few people try to take advantage of the goodwill system, but they’re a lot fewer than you might imagine.

Hub says:
December 19, 08h

Not sure about that, but I think it only means that the DVD is CSS protected. And this have been the case since I ever got my DVD player back in 1999, and probably before. It is part of the DVD standard.

mabhatter says:
December 19, 08h

My merry DRM-mas.

So far I’ve had 1 “CD” and 2 “DVDs” that have been cursed by the Dark Lords of DRM.

The CD was a holiday mix new for the season. It wouldn’t play in my Sister’s car stereo (Stock OEM, big 3 auto) even though many other’s played fine. We returned it for a new one because it didn’t work (it did look a little flaky) and the second copy also failed… not just flaky, but the player spit it right back out!

I the last month I’ve gotten 2 DVDs from the rental store with DRM as well. Again, the player didn’t even try… it just spit them out. I exchanged the DVD for another at the rental store in case it was a bum disc. It wasn’t. The joke is that this is a Phillips DVD recorder… it’s made for RWs, so it takes a really messed up disc to reject it without trying to play it. (it’s even funnier because it’s PHILLIPS! Joke left to the reader)

In all the cases I’ve had the clerks were courteous enough to exchange the item as “defective”… it’s fun to know better than them! On a side note, perhaps that is the way to get back. Stores like WalMart have “no-hassle” policies. As long as you are following their policy of “exchange only” they’ll keep doing it and racking up return product for the co.

The biggest Joke of them all!!! All the discs played PERFECTLY under Ubuntu on my Lite-On everything burner! I actually ripped the CD and re-burned it for my sister and the copy worked great in her car. She has a shiny Christmas coaster to hang from the mirror now. The 2 DVDs I ripped to watch later in iTunes… oh the irony!!!

Dan Guy says:
December 19, 08h

It’s all a joke. The wide-scale DVD copiers have shrink-wrap machines to re-wrap the DVDs in order to return them. I once used Saran Wrap and a hair dryer to re-seal a boxed set of DVDs that I opened before realizing it was a season I already owned. (Oops!)

December 19, 09h

haha shrinkwrap… that reminds me years ago when I worked at an office supply store we had one guy come in and he wanted to shrinkwrap a dvd because the online store he bought it from wouldn’t take it back because it was opened. (He claimed it didn’t have shrinkwrap on it to begin with.) I said “let me check with my manager” to make sure it was OK… not only because it was a grey area legally but I wanted to see the look on his face—was a porn DVD (like “crazy college girls get naked” or whatever… it was really cheesy.) We had a good laugh over that one… you just know he “watched” it (and maybe copied it) and wanted to return it. I had a hard time keeping a straight face bringing it shrinkwrapped back out to him..

me says:
December 19, 10h

“The escalating arms race between content poviders and their customers…”

That should read “The escalating arms race between content providers and the pirates…”. Customers are just getting caught in the crossfire.

December 19, 10h

Canada really doesn’t have consumer protection laws?

Over here in EU-land if you buy something and it’s not fit for purpose, then it’s broken and you get a refund. Cast-iron legal guarantee, and there’s no doubt at all that a DVD which doesn’t play in your DVD player is covered. That it’s opened wouldn’t matter at all.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never seen one of those stickers.

December 19, 10h

“It seems like everyone I talked to was confident these wouldn’t play in a DVD writer, so playing them in a Mac would likely be out.”
I know of a certain program (DVD43) for Windows that will disable DRM protection and one can then play these on a DVD-combo drive on the PC. I’m sure something is out there for Macs/Linux too … my head will burst if I find out otherwise.
On a different note, nice redesign here :).

Lee says:
December 19, 10h

Could you return the goods as unfit for purpose? If you can’t play them then technically they don’t perform the function they were intended for. Probably not I suspect.

On DRM in DVDs, I know there are system available that will mean the disc can only be played on a specific piece of hardware. That’s what worries me for future releases.

The people this hurts won’t be the criminals or the tech-savvy, they’ll find a way around any DRM very quickly, it’s ordinary people it cripples.

An example of this can be found in the region system. My parents lived in the US for a bit and bought a load of region 1 DVDs, now back in the UK they either have to buy a cheap DVD player that’ll play multi-region discs (because the studios have told the big guns not to do it, so they all created spin-off companies for multi-region products). Me, I ripped the movies, stripped the region coding and burnt them back onto DVD. We own them, we should be able to watch them on whatever we want.

Dave S. says:
December 19, 10h

“I wonder if it would help if you made a point of informing the store you didn’t buy it *because* of DRM and the fear that it won’t play.”

Yes, I did. Tilting at windmills, since I doubt many people care enough to do it. But I certainly did.

“The wide-scale DVD copiers have shrink-wrap machines to re-wrap the DVDs in order to return them.”

Of course they do, which makes this policy all the more unsavoury.

“I know of a certain program (DVD43) for Windows that will disable DRM protection…”

Yes, were this something I personally received, there would be ways around it. I could install software, I could BitTorrent a copy, etc. I know all about those, I don’t need advice on how to do it. This was a gift for someone else, remember. Someone who doesn’t need the headache.

“Canada really doesn’t have consumer protection laws?”

Yes, it’s possible that with the right legal ammunition, my country’s laws will convince the low-level retail clerks that they should indeed contravene store policy and accept an opened item in return.

That’s an uphill battle I care not to attempt; it’s clearly not a common practice over here, otherwise store policy would have accounted for this occurence.

It was just easier to not buy it.

Greg says:
December 19, 11h

I had a similar issue with the Matrix DVD.
Is it fair to even call these things DVD’s?

December 19, 12h

Yup, this stuff is bad. It makes me sad that I’m being bullied by the big guys for stealing music or films. Evidently they can’t possibly know that I have a bookcase devoted to my media, or that I spend 75% of what’s left of my income on music (it has now and then come before food on my priority list). But it more than annoys me that I, for some reason, won’t always be able to actually own what I pay for. Let alone play!

What can save us souls well-meaning?

December 19, 12h

Thanks for the tip on this one, I’m keeping an eye out on my purchases. More and more they just keep losing that portion of disposable income I set aside for my music and movies.

beto says:
December 19, 13h

Dave: “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.”

This is why I still get a kick of collecting and playing used/thrift store LPs after all these years. In fact it is the only music format I find it worth spending money on these days. So much for the so-called digital technology “progress”. Me, I’ll just keep staring at how the big media companies dig their own graves trying to stop what cannot be stopped.

Meanwhile… DRM? What’s that, I ask? :D

Rick says:
December 19, 15h

Interestingly the doubts are coming from the other side too - Bill Gates has just said DRM isn’t working:

On a bit of a tangent, have you seen the new home page? At first glance it appears to be built with web standards. (HTML 4 Transitional isn’t exactly a lofty goal, but they’re nearly there.)

The frustrating thing about this is that it’s built on SharePoint 2007. I’m trying to build a SharePoint 2007 site at the moment and out-of-the-box the HTML is as horrendous as ever. They must have gone to a lot of effort to get as good as it is, but why couldn’t they put that effort into the base product instead and save a lot of developers a lot of time?

dusoft says:
December 19, 17h

Actually, it would illegal in EU to sell the CD which is not playable and then not accept the return.

As a shop owner, you have to accept the CD for exchange or money return if it isn’t working (basically, it is supposed to be broken under current laws).

microUgly says:
December 19, 17h

I dare say this little logo has backfired for HBO.

DVD’s have always been copy protected. CSS is the only form of encryption (DRM if you will) on DVD’s. They can’t introduce a new forms of encryption because no players will understand it.

There is no way it can detect if your DVD drive is a writer, unless you are using your disc in a computer and the disc autoplays and installs some software. But I’ve never heard of this with DVD’s and after Sony’s rootkit I don’t think any company would attempt it for a while yet.

If that disc carries the official DVD logo you can be assured it will play an any device that also carries an official DVD logo. Both the disc and drive have to conform to the DVD standards.

You’ll notice most CD’s these days don’t carry the Compact Disc logo anymore because they don’t conform to the standards. Although, even the ones that do conform don’t carry the CD logo anymore so consumers can’t tell which are copy protected.

December 19, 18h

The industry continually amazes me with their insistence that it’s a good idea to punish paying customers.

Bart says:
December 20, 12h

Here in the Netherlands you can return a product if it doesn’t work properly (e.g. not playing in your DVD-player). Most store personnel will tell you it’s their policy not to take back products, but by law you have the right to do so. It’s a matter of… convincing the personnel to give you the service you’ve got the right to.

My personal opinion is that DRM is so absolutely wrong. If you buy something, you have the right to do everything you want with it except copyright infringement. DRM makes you unable to make backups or rip songs for your iPod. On the other hand, cracking protection is forbidden by law. You’d say it’s a conspiracy and the government’s in it…

illovich says:
December 20, 12h

“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 would argue that you’ve actually hit two separate problems. The first is obviously the copy protection that you are legally prohibited from circumventing (in some countries, anyway) even if the protection prevents you from actually using what you bought.

The second problem is the store you’re buying from.

The correct answer to your question was “yes, we will take it back if you say the disc is defective (because we value your business).”

If a store doesn’t answer the question you asked that way they deserve to lose your business to a competitor, and if you have the energy I’d recommend a letter to an executive of the company (I’m assuming this happened at a large chain) explaining why you can no longer purchase merchandise from the store.

I would give my opinion on how to deal with the DVDs in question, but you did the right thing =)

Erica says:
December 21, 04h

Hmmm – I honestly don’t remember the last time I bought an “actual” DVD – partly because I don’t have much time for TV – and partly because the only thing I ever do watch is my iPod.

I don’t mind paying $2.00 an episode for TV Shows from iTunes – or even $12 bucks for a movie. But I do mind wasting hard earned money on DVD’s that will not play due to DRM. The story that Sean told above, illustrates perfectly “The Road Ahead”. I refuse to be called a criminal because something I purchased is worthless to me.

And like Simon, I worry about future DVD rentals. I’m a member of Netflix and Blockbuster On-line, and would hate to find that EVEN my video rentals do not play.

Which makes options like seem more and more appealing every day. Or better yet – we all go on strike and watch nothing but YouTube. LOL

Ted Goas says:
December 21, 10h

Interesting point. I certainly do not defend DRM, but have accepted it as a necessary evil to protect the non-computer-savvy masses from completely exploiting digital media (I think savvy users will always find a way around DRM).

Therefore, it’s not the “This DVD is copy protected” part I have a real problem with, it’s the “may be played only on licensed devices.” I wonder what they mean by ‘licensed devices’.

We’ve seen people get cornered in other digital media genres. For one, I am a iTunes/iPod person for music. Some are MS Reader / .Doc people for eBooks. When content and devices are not interoperable, we’re sometimes forced to choose a company or format. I wonder if we’ll soon only be able to play that Rome DVD on DVD players made by HBO.

Mark says:
December 21, 19h

Wow, lots of half-truths and misinformation here.

To answer your question, Dave, the little “copy protected” warning could mean any number of things.

1. In the beginning (of DVDs) there was CSS – the Content Scramble System, not Cascading Style Sheets ;) – which was famously cracked many years ago by “DVD Jon”. CSS is technically optional (for example, Jason Scott’s BBS Documentary doesn’t use it) but virtually every commercial DVD uses it.

It is possible that the warning you saw referred to CSS protection and nothing more.

2. Also since the beginning, DVDs have had the option of embedding a region code in the DVD disc. Different regions of the world were assigned different codes, and every DVD player manufacturer had to sign an agreement with the DVD Consortium stating that they would only play DVD discs of a certain region. And the manufacturers had to play by the Consortium’s rules, because the Consortium was the only one who could give out the decryption keys that would allow the player to decrypt the CSS encryption used on commercial DVDs.

Despite these agreements, in some regions of the world (i.e. everywhere but the United States), there was a growing market for “multi-region” DVD players which would play DVDs from anywhere, i.e. a DVD player in the UK (region 2) which could play DVDs from the US (region 1). (Many were region-locked by default but had secret codes that could enable the extra functionality.) To counteract this trend, Columbia Tristar and Warner Home Video attempted a new scheme called “region code enhancement” (RCE). An RCE-protected DVD disc contains executable code that asks the DVD player what regions it supports, and refuses to play the disc if it didn’t like the answer. All DVDs can contain executable code which is executed by the DVD player – that’s how menus and other features work. But this code tried to outwit the “multi-region” DVD players in order to enforce in software the region encoding scheme that the players refused to support in hardware. There were various improvements to RCE over the years, as multi-region players adapted to older techniques.

It is possible that the warning you saw referred to RCE protection. “Multi-region” DVD players – even ones made by legitimate mainstream manufacturers – have been called “unlicensed” or “unapproved” devices by studios still trying to divide the global marketplace into distinct regions.

3. Eventually the multi-region DVD players got so smart that they were software-indistinguishable from region-locked players, and the studios gave up and focused on a new threat: DVD ripping programs. As I mentioned earlier, DVDs contain executable code that tells the player what to do next – go to this menu, set this register, jump to this track or chapter, etc. That means that in the normal course of playing a DVD, there could be tracks (or individual chapters within a track) that you would never reach. Even if you tried to reach them (by using navigation buttons for “next track” or “next chapter” or whatever), those are really just commands to the DVD player and they can be overridden by code on the DVD disc that tells the DVD player to do something else. So the disc could have a bogus track or a damaged sector, and on a regular (*cough* “approved” *cough*) DVD player you would never even notice.

But DVD ripping progams don’t execute code; they blindly read every byte off the disc and decrypt it. So Sony introduced ARccOS protection, where consisted of placing intentionally bad sectors in parts of the DVD disc and then programming the disc to never go there during the normal course of playing it. Of course, DVD ripping programs were quickly updated to read the DVD directory structure to determine which tracks and sectors were never actually used, and if they found a bad sector in one of those tracks they simply skipped over it without complaining.

It is possible that the warning you saw referred to ARccOS protection (Sony licenses it to various other studios). Despite reports of it being discontinued, it is still being used on some new DVDs, to this day. (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is a quite recent example.)

4. In 2005, Macrovision introduced yet another protection scheme called RipGuard. I have not been able to find a whole lot of technical details about how it works, except that they essentially reverse-engineered several DVD ripping programs and created a protection scheme that exploited as-yet-unknown bugs in those programs. They also claim to be able to “update” the protection for new discs as bugs are fixed in the ripper programs. (Later in 2005, Macrovision actually bought the IP for DVD Decrypter, which was at the time the most popular program for Windows, and updated RipGuard so DVD Decrypter wouldn’t work.) So basically, “RipGuard” is just a generic catch-all term for “here’s all the ways we’ve found to fuck with you so far, but be sure to ask again tomorrow.”

It is possible that the warning you saw referred to RipGuard protection.—Gone-Forever.html

As you correctly pointed out, without buying the discs and opening the package, there is no way to be sure which protection scheme (or combination of protection schemes!) are present, and therefore whether the discs would work in your gift recipient’s DVD player.

Ironically, every modern DVD ripping program can easily auto-detect and auto-bypass all of these protection schemes, and then re-author the disc onto ultra-cheap recordable media with no protection whatsoever. If you wanted to ensure a smooth Christmas morning (and didn’t mind breaking several federal laws), you should buy the discs and re-author them unprotected, and keep the originals in a drawer. As I said in my first blog post ever, “the only long-term effect of copy protection is to ensure that those who defeat it are immortalized.”

Mark says:
December 22, 09h

I recently got a copy of Peepshow, a UK channel 4 DVD, that had the standard copy protected stuff on the back. I ignored it, and then found out it wouldn’t play on my iBook G4 in the DVD player. VLC and then Instant Handbrake promptly sorted that out though. So currently the only full season of a TV show that I have on my computer is a copy protected one.

Dave S. says:
December 22, 13h

Since I doubt anyone will be able to top the sheer usefulness and relevance of Mark’s comment, consider this thread closed. Thanks all.

The comment in question: