John Walker's Electronic House

CW 176

Copyright Watch 176

John Walker holds aloft a shiny little disc, and wipes a tear of joy from his eye.

Well, it’s DVDs again folks. Much is brewing in the confused world of Copyright Land over the difficulty these little circles of joy have generated. Let’s just get up to speed.

Europe received its cinema releases of Hollywood films three months later than the US as part of a cheap trick by the distribution studios, meaning they wouldn’t need to print as many reels. After the US run was completed, the reels were cleaned and shipped over here so we could watch the second-hand scratched up versions. We put up with this for years.

VHS presented few problems – the NTSC/PAL divide meant Brits were unlikely to buy a US video cassette. But DVDs weren’t so simple. Unless something was done, it would be possible to import US DVD sellthrough releases before the film had crawled its way to our cinemas. So region coding was invented, aimed to prevent US discs from playing on UK technology. Fortunately, thanks to the tech sellers themselves, such encoding was easily cracked, and multiregion machines defied Hollywood’s rulings. It’s thanks to this that we now occasionally see films released at the same time as America.

And it looks like DVDs are now securing another victory. A French court has ruled that the ludicrous Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) enforced by the DMCA prevents owners from exercising their basic rights of ownership. In other words, they’ve said it’s ok to copy DVDs for personal use. This may sound a small deal, but the impact is huge. It makes a mockery of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (an act so abhorrent that it violates the US constitution and basic human rights).

This news is coincided by rumblings in Hollywood that they may start releasing DVDs at the same time as the film is in the cinema, because despite making record profits in the last year, they must have that little bit more! They’re even talking about /lowering the price/.

DVDs, we salute you. You are changing the world for the better.