Digital Copy: A feature that's no feature

You may have noticed that many new DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are being advertised with a new, extra 'feature:' Digital Copy. These films, such as Wanted, The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia!, come with an additional disc. On this disc is a copy of the movie you can put it on your computer, and from there, view it on your PC's screen or on your television via an Apple TV or some other computer-to-TV device.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Well... no.

This is simply the movie industry's latest attempt to sugar coat DRM (Digital Rights Management). You already bought the movie. You should be able to watch it on any device you own that can show the movie and back it up. Of course, that's the last thing the movie companies want you to do. As far as they're concerned, you don't buy a movie, an episode of a TV show, an album, or song. You rent the use of it on one, or at most, two, devices.

Here's how Digital Copy works. Twentieth Century Fox and Apple introduced Digital Copy for iTunes earlier this year. It uses Apple's FairPlay DRM to lock down the video on the Digital Copy. Since then, Disney and Lions Gate also have started to use it. The Digital Copy can be transferred to a Windows PC or Macintosh and viewed with Windows Media Player or iTunes. You can also transfer the movie to an iPod, Apple TV or a compatible Windows Media-based portable player.

To make this happen, you pop the Digital Copy disc into your DVD drive. Next, you click on the Activate button and type in the 12- or 16-digit activation code. Your computer will then authorize the use of the copy on that PC with that particular copy of iTunes.

If you try to play that video on a machine with a different copy of iTunes, say your laptop or the next computer you buy, it won't play. It also won't run if you have a Linux PC. Transfer your copy to a new computer and reauthorize it with the activation code? Nope, that won't work either. In fact, as is so often the case with DRM, there are all kinds of ways that Digital Copy prevents you from watching your movie.

Digital Copy is nonsense. It's your movie, you bought it, and you should be able to watch it how you want to watch, when you want to watch it. There are many programs out there that allow you to make copies of your DVDs and let you watch them the way you want to view them. The combination of HandBrake, an open-source video to MPEG4 converter with versions for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows and a DVD DRM decryption library like libdvdcss for Linux PCs, Macs, and older versions of Windows works well. Or, on XP -- but not Vista -- you can use the old, but still best of breed, DVD Decrypter 3.5.4.0.

The decryption programs fall into a gray area of the law. The media companies want to lock down your rights to use your music and videos. But, it's still not clear where the dividing line is between your fair use of your media and their rights to control your use.

What I think is that we don't need Digital Copy. It's no 'feature.' It's a trick. What we really need is for the movie industry to move into the 21st century and allow people the right to view and use their movies any way they want. As movies join music in making the move from physical media, like CDs and DVDs, to online formats, the media companies need to change their business plans and meet their customers' legitimate needs.

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