Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Problems of the MPAA's Digital Copy system

When I got 'Wanted' on DVD as a gift, it was the first movie on disc (DVD or Blu-ray) that included a Digital Copy. Since my home media setup is all iTunes/Apple-based I easily popped in the extra disc, entered the included key and added the "Wanted" to my media collection in less than 5 minutes. It was beautiful and enlightening. I'm on the side of the fence that copying a movie onto a private home media network is an ethical, though not currently legal, fair use of copyrighted works.

Usually ripping a DVD for me is a 'set it and forget' operation using Handbrake that takes several elapsed hours but little interaction. But with the latest copy-protection features of DVDs it can be a hit-or-miss prospect which has caused me to add a few corrupted movies to my collection. And if I want to take the time to attempt to circumvent the copy-protection using Mac the Ripper or RipIt, it's again hit-or-miss and makes the process that much more labor-intensive, at a time in my life where I have little desire or time desire to dedicate to building my media collection.

Seeing how quick, easy and reliable using the Digital Copy process was and how it resulted in a copy that can play on my mobile device (iPhone), HTPC (Mac mini) and set-top box (AppleTV) was exactly what I've wanted! And now having a Blu-ray player but no way to import those movies into my media collection, I thought Blu-ray + Digital Copy was the killer combination. But with my third purchase of a feature that included a Digital Copy, the honeymoon is over.

Here's what I think is missing from the current Digital Copy system:
  1. DRM-free
  2. HD
  3. Quality consistency
  4. Ownership transfer/lending
DRM-free
At first, the DRM didn't bother me. Then I started to worry about what happens when I have a catastrophic data failure of some kind? Sure I back up my files including my ripped videos, and I've even started making a second off-site backup but will I have to jump through hoops to play them again? How simple is the process of re-adding them to my collection if I get a new computer?

Also, I found expiration dates for all three keys I currently have, what if I have to reauthorize them after the expiration date? In fact my third purchase was made after the listed expiration date, but luckily I didn't have a problem activating the Digital Copy, which was a bit of a relief. In general I'm worried about the ramifications of an expiration date on the activation key.

High Definition
Now if I buy a DVD with a Digital Copy, I'm not greedy and I don't expect an HD Digital Copy. But for the one Blu-ray I've purchased with a Digital Copy I'd expect at least a 720p HD copy as if I had purchased it in HD the iTunes Store.

Quality consistency
Another surprising thing for one of the movies I purchased, "The Nightmare Before Christmas", I noticed a drastic difference in the aspect ratio of the Digital Copy compared to the DVD video. The DVD was clearly full-frame 16:9 but the Digital Copy was somewhere between 4:3 and 16:9. My guess is its the original theatrical aspect ratio and the DVD version was cropped to 16:9.

Ownership transfers and lending
What happens when I want to lend, give or sell the DVD to a friend? I think what Barnes&Noble is doing with the Nook is the most realistic option, allow 14-day lending of digital rights to a friend. If they can make it work, why can Apple and Microsoft?
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