BLAARGH! Digital Copies

Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!”

We live in age of both entitlement and instant gratification. Add in that today’s consumers want a little more bang for their buck than those of years past and the advent of Internet piracy, and the relatively new trend of DVDs and blu-rays coming with free “digital copies” inside is a no-brainer. Everyone has an iPod or PSP or laptop or something these days designed for mobile media, so Hollywood should definitely capitalize on that in some way if they can. Plus, this benefits the consumer (that’s us), so what’s not to like?

The problem in my experience is the incredibly dense levels of drm on these files. I recently went to work pulling off all the digital copies of various movies I’d bought over the last year or so, and the results were mixed across the board. For starters, there were several I couldn’t get to because they’d expired. Yes, the packaging is marked with the expiration date, but what’s the rationale behind locking the content on a disc after a certain time period? It’s on the disc, after all. Why can’t I get it whenever I want it? On the opposite end, there were a couple that were past the printed expiration date that I was still able to get to, so there’s that, I suppose. But what of the movies I WAS able to extract with no problems?

The movies are available by and large in two formats: iTunes and everything else. If you’ve go an iPod, iPad or iPhone, you are set. The process is relatively painless and works with iTunes, which is in and of itself a pretty user friendly program, so it’s all rainbows and puppy dogs on that front. For the rest of us, the process of getting one of these things to work can be anything from annoying to maddening, depending on the drm on each movie and the device the movie will hopefully be running on when all is said and done. For my adventure, I was trying to get some movies onto my PSP. Granted, it’s no iPod, but it’s still a major platform.

The first obstacle I ran into was on a couple I’d already imported them to iTunes for use on my pc and maybe on my wife’s iPod someday. Bad idea. Some (not all) of these digital copies are designed for use on one or the other. Once you redeem the code for your copy, you’re done. You know, like when you buy a DVD and you can only use it on the first DVD player you out it in… Riiiiight. So choose wisely, I guess. The inconsistency I encountered was a problem for me. Sometimes I could do both, but not every time, so I as a bit of crapshoot.

So assuming I was able to get the movie off the disc, I had the added hassle of figuring out whether or not I was going to be able to use it on my PSP or not. Depending on how they’re encoded, some of the movies aren’t compatible with the PSP’s media player. Codecs and such have to gel just right, and they often don’t. The next logical step was to convert it to a format I knew the PSP supported. That’s a fine idea, assuming the movie isn’t locked down tighter than a hummingbird’s ass. Almost without fail, the files were completely inconvertible because of the drm (digital rights management). The folks making this file wanted to make damn sure I wasn’t going to use it on my PSP, apparently, which brings me to my next point; I’m using a well established, major brand device. With the plethora of media player options out there right now, I can’t imagine the range of devices these files simply don’t work with. The tagline of “take your movies anywhere” rings a bit hollow. Of course, windows media player recognizes them just fine, so a laptop will get the job done, but what about smartphones or video enabled mp3 players that aren’t made by Apple? The studios are so concerned about people spreading the movie illegally that they’ve made the process of installing them legitimately an inconvenience, and that’s a problem.

I'm a HUGE fan of the DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy Combo Pack

In the end, I got my movie on my PSP. After about 3 hours of trying to get it converted to some format I could use to play it, I got fed up and took all of five minutes to find a torrent for it and illegally downloaded a copy of a movie I already owned and it went on to my PSP like a champ with no problem at all. It was all too easy. In all honesty, I don’t download movies. I don’t. A rental is a friggin’ dollar and I’ve got Netflix. In this case, it was the only option I could find to get the job done. The high road was blocked. Someone somewhere decided it was more important to make sure I couldn’t put the movie online than it was to make sure I could put the movie on my portable device of choice. Luckily, someone else put it online for me and everyone got a happy ending.

The point is that this system is broken. There needs to be a middle ground somewhere. As it stands, it’s grossly inconvenient to get these digital copies to work properly in some cases, so the perceived value added to initial purchase is reduced by the hassle placed upon the consumer. The idea is to prohibit file sharing, but let’s get real; that ship has sailed and it’s never coming back. The genie is out of the bottle and the simple truth is that anyone who has even the slightest desire to download a movie off the Internet can do it. You can do it directly ON some mobile devices now. All this deep drm is doing is making such downloading that much more enticing. It’s a shot in the foot in a major way and makes what should be a bonus to the consumer a bit lackluster if they’re without an Apple product, and that’s no good, either, when the packaging touts multi platform support. We want to do right by you, Hollywood. help us help you.


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Who ARE these people!?

Lee Rodriguez is a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Panels On Pages. He is also a freelance graphic and web designer, action figure customizer, swell guy, and an awesome dad.

I'm even on Google+... Kind of.

Comments (8)

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  1. BookWyrm69 says:

    I’ve encountered the exact same problem. Though I do own an ipod, I much prefer the movies on my tablet or on my EVO. I’ve found a few programs to reformat the files once I’ve extracted them from the itunes folder but it is a huge hassle. Maybe one day it’ll get better, I’ll just hold my breath until then…

  2. TwilightTony says:

    Well, jeeze, if you were trying to get it on your PSP, why didn’t you just go and buy the UMD version?? See, this is why Hollywood doesn’t respect us! #sarcasm

  3. Ben Gilbert says:

    The fact that they put expiration dates on their digital copies is maddening and quite puzzling. I buy a lot of DVDs secondhand, which means that if I get one with a digital copy, there’s a pretty good chance that I won’t be able to use it, making that disc nothing but a shiny coaster. Hollywood will never successfully discourage piracy until it shows at least a little faith in the consumers.

  4. Jeffro says:

    “Some (not all) of these digital copies are designed for use on one or the other. Once you redeem the code for your copy, you’re done. You know, like when you buy a DVD and you can only use it on the first DVD player you out it in… Riiiiight.”
    Seems more like buying an HD-DVD and trying to play it in your BluRay player.

    • Not at all. I’m told I can have both formats and only after I do one am I informed I can’t do the other. Bullshit.

      • Jeffro says:

        I don’t use the digital copies, but with the general idea, I’d assume that you also get to download the movie once, in whatever format you choose.

        I’m not smart, though.

  5. TENIME says:


  6. Mohammad Ali says:

    Awesome article i will link to you and mention this in my article on copyright.

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