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In an announcement that was either an inspired piece of Yes Men-esque performance art or a stunning example of corporate myopia, last week Warner Home Entertainment Group President Kevin Tsujihara discussed a new DVD digitization service called “disc-to-digital.” The program, which would have merely been ill-advised had it been announced ten years ago, today stands as a testament to the ability of movie studios to blind themselves to reality.
The entire program is designed to give consumers a way to take movies they already own on DVD and turn them into more portable digital files. If this entire thing sounds familiar, that may be because it is exactly what Public Knowledge is currently petitioning the Copyright Office to let people do on their own. It may also sound familiar because this is exactly what people have been doing with music on CDs since the Clinton Administration.
As reported by the LA Times, the first phase in this process is to let DVD owners bring their DVDs to a store that will handle the digital conversion. Tsujihara described this process as allowing consumers to convert their libraries “easily, safely and at reasonable prices.”
You did read that last paragraph correctly. The head of Warner Home Entertainment Group thinks that an easy, safe way to convert movies you already own on DVD to other digital formats is to take your DVDs, find a store that will perform this service, drive to that store, find the clerk who knows how to perform the service, hope that the “DVD conversion machine” is not broken, stand there like a chump while the clerk “safely” converts your movie to a digital file that may only play on studio-approved devices, drive home, and hope everything worked out. Oh, and the good news is that you would only need to pay a reasonable (per-DVD?) price for this pleasure.
To be fair, this plan is easy, safe (safe?), and reasonably priced compared to the movie studio’s current offer to people who want to take movies they own on DVD and turn them into a digital file to watch on, say, their iPad. That offer is a lawsuit, because personal copying of a movie on DVD requires circumventing DRM, which is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Furthermore, right now all of the major studios are arguing passionately (pdf) to stop the Copyright Office from granting a exemption that would make personal space shifting of movies on DVD legal.
Try to picture the real alternative to this hokum – people making their own copies of their movies at home. Luckily you won’t have to use your imagination too much because people making their own copies of media they own is exactly what people do with their CDs. They download a free program, make a copy of the CD at home, put the MP3 files on whatever device they want, and go on with their lives.
Of course, the movie studios would prefer to control this process. Although they may pay some lip service to wanting to prevent piracy – a claim that is undermined by the fact that they argue in any forum available that piracy of motion pictures is already rampant – it really is about charging customers again. Why let customers make legitimate personal copies of movies they own at home when you could charge them to do it at a store?
So we are left hoping that Kevin Tsujihara is on the wrong end of a trick played by some junior executive being let go for greenlighting a remake of Arthur. Because if the top brass at a major studio think that this is what providing a great service to consumers looks like, we are a long way from figuring this whole “digital movie” thing out.