Regional Conflicts

Posted By on December 31, 2006

Or
“You Must Live In North America To Read This Post”

.: My dad asked my sister what she wanted for Christmas, and she sent him a list of television documentaries — Cosmos, The Blue Planet, and Life on Earth. Yesterday, she tried watching the first episode of Life on Earth only to meet an unforeseen obstacle: all the DVDs were region 2 encoded. The blame cannot be attributed to our father, for he had simply ordered the only version of Life on Earth available (excluding this unrelated movie and these listings, which are actually just used copies of the region 2 sets), ignorant of any regional lockout mechanisms.

.: Ostensibly to retain regional market prices; more efficiently time release dates; restrict any material that may be illegal in other countries; and/or avoid “stepping on someone else’s toes” (but not, curiously, to prevent piracy, as you’d think), the BBC in their infinite wisdom decided to lockout Life on Earth from every market outside of Europe. This makes sense if you don’t think about it.

.: But, for the sake of this post, let’s think about it. What possible benefit is it to the BBC to market a box set that’s viewable only to Europeans? We paid money for the set (I don’t know how much, but probably somewhere around $40 – $60), so why can’t we watch what’s in the box? Perhaps they wish to preserve some sort of price discrimination scheme, where a British version would cost $70 and the American version would cost only $40. It makes sense for them to want to prevent British people from simply importing the American version and pocketing the $30 in savings. But here’s the thing: they don’t sell an American version.

.: Every other program by David Attenborough is available for sale in America: Life in the Undergrowth, The Life of Mammals, The Living Planet, The Life of Birds.

.: What possible reason is there for not selling Life on Earth in region 1? We’ve already excluded price discrimination as a moot point, since there’s no difference in prices if there is only one price. As for launching the set at different dates around the world — the damn thing was first broadcast in 1979, for crap’s sake. This isn’t the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie with all the worldwide hype and anticipation that comes with it and all the potential marketing failures; it’s a freakin’ documentary. My sister’s copy of The Blue Planet was distributed by BBC America and Warner Brothers. It was first released in region 2 on Dec 3, 2001 and later in region 1 on Aug 27, 2002. Why they even waited that long, I don’t know. Life on Earth was released in region 2 on September 1, 2003, but the box we have has a 2005 copyright. Apparently they’re waiting a bit longer than they did with The Blue Planet, but I honestly don’t know if they ever plan on releasing it here.

.: The third point, about restricting material that may be illegal in other countries, will receive only this curt, self-referential dismissal.

.: Now, the only possible explanation rests with the fourth point, about distributors wishing to avoid stepping on each others toes and whatnot. BBC and BBC America/Warner Brothers obviously have different distribution rights. But this seems to tie back in with price discrimination. If BBC releases a $70 box set in Europe and BBC America releases a $40 version of the same set, then people will begin importing the BBC America version instead of the BBC version, which would cost somebody some where some money. Again, this is understandable, and there’s already a word for the motives behind setting up schemes to prevent such toe-stepping: greed. It inconveniences the hell out of all consumers to have to deal with regional lockout. The only benefits are to producers and distributors, who can jack up the price of two identical products in one region and sell the product for what it’s actually worth in another region. Want to prevent toe-stepping? Sell both box sets for $40 (or the British equivalent).

.: As it is, my sister is left with an expensive DVD box set that she is unable to play. Her only legal options at this point are to 1.) return the set for a refund 2.) buy a new DVD player that can handle multiple regions or 3.) move to Europe, where she’ll also have to buy a new DVD player.

.: Option one clearly doesn’t solve the problem. Option two is unreasonable for a consumer who has already legally purchased the DVDs. Option three is monumentally stupid and deserves no further comment. There is, technically, a forth option; however, thanks to myopic and ill-conceived laws, this perfectly feasible (if not time-consuming) option is illegal. Here’s what I could do to help my sister:

~I could kill a good two hours ripping each DVD onto my hard drive, stripping the noxious region locks and removing the ineffective copy-protection. It would take a bit longer, since my hard drive doesn’t have enough space to hold all of them, but with more time I could cleverly shuffle each bit of data to make it all fit.

~I could then burn the ripped DVD files on wholly new DVDs that would be playable anywhere.

.: That’s it. That’s all I have to do, and my sister would be able to actually watch her legally purchased DVDs. But my doing that would be considered illegal, not because I copied the DVDs — that would be fair use; you’re allowed to make private backups of your media — but because I would have to circumvent the ineffective encryption on the discs to make the copies. It’s all rather curious. To wit, you’re allowed to make private copies of your DVDs, but you’re not allowed to break the anti-copying mechanisms while doing so. Thanks, DMCA!

.: The irony of all this is that these copy restriction measures have done nothing to quell piracy. Instead of my dad forking over $40+ for the whole box set that doesn’t work, he could have downloaded all the episodes from here in a couple of days — probably the same amount of time it took to deliver the damn thing from overseas. Instead of preventing piracy, which was already illegal, the DMCA has been used to buttress a ridiculously stupid business model that would have fallen along time ago without it. This isn’t the difference between PAL and NTSC tapes, which were physical, technical differences. A region 2 DVD rips to my computer just as easily as a region 1 DVD, and if I weren’t utterly chicken shit I’d tell you if I actually did it.

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Comments

38 Responses to “Regional Conflicts”

  1. Oscar B. says:

    The second option of using a multi-region DVD player is actually frowned upon by MPAA. It isn’t technically against the law; but if caught with one, you can get some fine for tampering with the firmware. (that’s why my DVD player unlocking was a little circuitous to do)

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a fantastically snotty post. For years those of us in europe have been dealing with region 2 only crap like this, and when finally someone in north america gets the sharp end you act like its the end of the world. Plenty of stuff is unavailable in region 1 for *no* discernable reason – bet you never noticed that before? Get over it and buy a region free DVD player. They’re dirt cheap these days.

  3. Douglas says:

    > This isn’t the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie with all
    > the worldwide hype and anticipation that comes with it
    > and all the potential marketing failures; it’s a freakin’
    > documentary.

    Which may well be the point: if it’s a product in low demand, perhaps it makes sense to only make one release at a time, rather than for the whole world at once?

    As Anonymous says, no need to be so snotty: please forward your distaste to the MPAA and fellow supporters of the DMCA!

  4. Josh says:

    Oscar B. is wrong. How can you get fined (a criminal law punishman) for something that he comes out and says isn’t illegal?

    The reason for region lockouts is twofold. One is, as you surmised, money the other is copyright laws. Movies have soundtracks, right? Or clips that play on TVs inside the film? Those other works have to be licensed by the movie studios and part of the licensing is what areas of the world the works will be used in.

    Also, you are a pussy for not just coming out and saying you did it. Not only does doing it fall well under Fair Use laws in the US, who the fuck from the BBC do you think is going to read this virtually unknown blog, hunt down your info and then sue you?

  5. Brian says:

    Media is difficult to get legally where I live (New Zealand). I’ve always considered this to be one of the grand ironies of DRM.

    Sure, I could buy a region free player – but why should I? If I’ve paid for a zone 1 DVD from Amazon.com, it should play in my DVD player. I’ve handed over money dammit!

  6. Nutrimentia says:

    I agree with you. Region encoding is an artificial barrier established by content producers simply to control consumers. Consumers should have the ability to use their products they way they want, barring mass producing copies for sale or donation, etc.

    Funny how businesses are in support of reducing barriers to trade over *here* but then create their own self-serving barriers over *here*.

  7. mark says:

    get a multi-region DVD player you moron

  8. Anonymous says:

    You could use DVD Shrink to strip the region coding. Since you bought the DVDs I think you have the right to do this.

  9. EU citizen says:

    Europeans have been dicked over like this for ages. Welcome to our world. Get a multiregion DVD player, or make your existing DVD player multiregion (search on the internet for your model & “multiregion”). IANAL, but it can’t be illegal to make a DVD player multiregion.

  10. Jack says:

    I hope “mark” dies in a horrible way. Preferably involving a rhino and fire.

  11. Gary says:

    1. Install DVD Shrink and DVD Decrypter on your PC.

    2. Strip out the garbage, FBI (MI5?) warnings, region coding, PUOPs, and ads (adverts?)

    3. Burn YOUR LEGALLY PURCHASED items to blank DVDs. It’s called fair use.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Oh, for God’s sake! Just play the bloody discs in Linux, and stop WHINING about it! You already agreed to all the restrictive crap when you bought the damned things in the first place – in fact, you not only agreed, you supported it! So if you did NOT agree in the first place, then you should not have bought into the racket. Your money allows them to believe they can continue to get away with it.

  13. jer says:

    You’ll run into the PAL/NTSC problem with the DVDs in addition to the region encoding. I suspect dvdshrink will probably take care of it for you, but it’s going to take forever and require an assload of space.

    I think your best bet is to get a multi-region player (one that does PAL/NTSC conversion on the fly… I have 2 made by philips that I highly recommend. As an added bonus they play most divx/xvid avi files as well off a dvd or cdr. It’s about $60 from amazon)

    The one perk of this option is you won’t have to worry about this sort of thing in the future.

    Me? I’ve done this AND I acquire the materials in the least-hassle way, which often means downloading.

    It’s not MY fault they don’t want my money, right?

  14. jer says:

    What’s with all the people jumping on you? Your complaints and reasoning all seem perfectly valid to me.

    Region locking, DMCA, DRM; they’re all things people need to have brought to their attention, and I think your post does a fine job of it.

  15. Willfe says:

    You’re spot-on here, and the idiots posting here offering insults are showing us exactly *why* this junk still works — consumers are, in general, so unbelievably stupid that this kind of stuff can cheerfully go on without anyone daring to speak up for fear of being persecuted by the moron majority.

    I’ll answer some of the questions/challenges posed here, though, for our less-intelligent DVD-loving friends:

    * He’s “afraid” of admitting he used a program to decrypt a DVD he purchased and re-encode it for the proper video format (PAL vs. NTSC) and remove the region lock because there is a non-zero chance that admitting this would actually PUT HIM IN JAIL. In the United States, the laws created by the DMCA make it a criminal offense to intentionally break a copy-protection scheme even if your intention is not to pirate the copy-protected content. Maybe this guy doesn’t want to go to !@#$ing jail for a few years just for telling the world “screw these jerks, I ripped it anyway.”

    * Buying a multi-region DVD player to play an off-region disc makes that disc a LOT more expensive. He shouldn’t *have* to — the damned DVD should just work. It’s also getting harder to find these players; DVD decryption (pathetic as it is) has to be licensed from the consortium responsible for the spec, else you can’t claim it’s a “DVD player” without being sued into oblivion. They frown on licensees ignoring the “you must honor region codes” requirement of the spec. Get caught doing it, and you lose your license. That means you don’t get to sell your players anymore.

    * Much as I love recommending people switch to Linux from Windows, calling someone a moron for not switching to Linux to play a damned DVD (maybe he wanted to … um, what’s the phrase … PLAY IT ON THE DVD PLAYER ATTACHED TO HIS TV?) is ridiculous. It’s equally moronic to just assume he’s actually *using* Windows exclusively.

    * It *is* all about money. Yes, I grok that it costs different amounts of money to license movie soundtracks and such in different parts of the world; this practice is equally stupid. Without the DMCA, region coding, and regional lockout crap going on, this antiquated business model would have died out long ago.

    * No, people don’t agree with draconian nonsense just buy buying something like a DVD. Shrink-wrap licensing sucks, and even though courts have upheld it on occasion, it is still dangerous. “By opening this package, you agree to give us another $200 within seven days. Note that you cannot read this agreement until you have opened this package, which binds you to this agreement.” Does that actually sound fair or ethical to any of you?

    * Everybody gets screwed evenly by this system; quit acting like living in Europe has made you a unique, special victim of a horrible scheme to screw Europeans. At least you people (except in France now in certain circumstances) don’t get *arrested* just for writing an unauthorized eBook reading application for blind users (google Dmitry Skylarov for more on *that* one).

    I think we’ve seen by now that simple boycotts don’t work; they’re still trying to kill TiVo (because it removes commercials — the biggest feature its users LOVE), they’re shoving more DRM down our throats with Microsoft Vista and locked-down “trusted computing” hardware, television broadcasts are slowly going all-digital so those evil bastard pirates can’t decode signals for free anymore, and they’re still desperately eager to find some way of turning DVD-style media into pay-per-view. Seems like turning off my damned TV entirely is the only way to steer clear of the whole mess.

  16. surrealgertrude says:

    I’ve had luck playing all regions of imported dvds on the Playstation. Try it!

  17. Steve says:

    I’m in New Zealand, and I didn’t think you could buy non-multi-region DVD players anymore. Only consoles don’t work – any other DVD player you can find will play PAL or NTSC, any region.

  18. Sean says:

    Yeah, the only problem with the modern world is that you have to think about these things. I’m an american living in europe and if a DVD player or game system refuses to let me do things multiregion, I simply won’t buy it. I have no problem with pirating to circumvent unreasonable limitations like this.

  19. Rick says:

    I’m sorry, are all you people from a planet where P2P filesharing hasn’t been invented yet?

  20. Stu says:

    Rick, just using P2P etc.. is illegal as you know. What irks many people is that they have money they want to use to buy something from someone (in the case a BBC DVD) and they are unable to buy something they can use. In some cases this is deliberate, eg Rolex keeping the supply of watches low to keep the price high, but hi this case, the inability is just inane. I’m kind of surprised that most places dont just produce region free discs to help the consumer…

  21. Scott says:

    Many DVD players can be hacked by pressing a certain hidden combination on the remote control. See:
    http://www.videohelp.com/dvdhacks
    for a list. Worked for me and my Philips player.

  22. Anonymous says:

    > Willfe
    You completely miss the point. This is an old, old problem. It’s been complained about for *years* – since the standards were first written. People inside and outside of region 1 have been actively trying to get this removed to no avail for *years*. The majority of people outside of region 1 now actively buy multi-region DVD players, and have done for *years*.

    The fact is that most people in region 1 can ignore region encoding because very few titles are not available in region 1 before any other encoding. The fact is I am offended that after 10 years of DVDs someone in region 1 can be surprised by their first encounter with the shitness of region encoding when we all got bitten by it as soon as DVDs came onto the market. The fact is that after years of shouting the people that listened were not that standards bodies or the content distributors, but the manufacturers of players who now actively market dirt cheap multiregion players – I bought one months ago for £20 including shipping, and I hardly think that qualifies as an expensive solution. The fact is we have already voted with our feet and backed multi-region DVD players.

    I am not acting like this is a problem that has uniquely affected any particular region. My point is that the region that has been *least* affected by region encoding is North America – comparatively few DVDs are not available in region 1 first and foremost. You cannot get on your high horse and complain about being screwed over just because you’ve only just noticed. The time for complaining about this has been and gone.

  23. Ken Zirkel says:

    The reason for the lockout is likely licensing-related. The artists who provided music, graphics, stock photography, and whatnot that appear on the DVD must be paid, and that payment scheme is dependent on what regions the DVD is sold in. I can’t speak to Life on Earth, but it has happened with other DVD releases that one single song can hold up the release of an entire movie or TV series, sometimes necessitating a substitute song. But sometimes the director refuses to substitute, resulting in a stalemate, and the show does not get released.

    Is this good for the consumer? Not necessarily.

  24. JJ says:

    Play your DVDs on UNIX operating systems (like pC-BSD or Linux – both are free and easy to install).

  25. tom says:

    Probably the reason for the region 2 encoding is that the British public fund the BBC by paying a massive license fee every year for the privilege of watching TV.

    OK we make money by eventually selling it to the rest of the world – but that’s just a side effect and not the goal.

  26. Cody says:

    To all of my European critics who’ve accused me of snottery, please allow me to repeat myself:

    “You Must Live In North America To Read This Post”

  27. stone says:

    Sometimes i just love living in iceland … as far as i know the regional laws are not supported by icelandic laws and therefore we can have the regional thingies removed/disabled in the dvd players we purchase locally(by the store selling the player)

  28. rebecca says:

    just buy yourself a multi regional dvd player and stop complaining

  29. Anonymous says:

    The US does this too… Their dvd’s aren’t viewable in Europe because of the Region Code, unless you buy a specific DVD player that can play all regions.

  30. Anonymous says:

    > To all of my European critics who’ve accused me of snottery, please allow me to repeat myself:
    > “You Must Live In North America To Read This Post”

    To which I would respond:

    “You must live in Europe to watch Life On Earth”

    ;)

    Apologies for the “snotty” comment – you have no idea how annoying it is to find that in region 1 you can go as long as you have without encountering these issues when the rest of the world has been grappling with it since last century. I’m sure that if I’d had all the content in my region, I wouldn’t have noticed the problem either…

  31. Cody says:

    I suppose I could add a few more things, or at least emphasis, to what I’ve already written. Most importantly; I didn’t buy the DVDs, my dad did. He, Model American Consumer, doesn’t know a thing about regional codes. If all this post does is raise the conscious of someone like him who didn’t know any better (and there are still plenty of those types out there), then why bother fussing at me?

    I suppose the time to raise my voice about this should have been when DVDs first appeared, but you’ll have to excuse me on account of my being ten years old at the time. Am I a little late in posting this? Definitely, but only because the problem still hasn’t gone away. As far as I know, the majority of DVD players sold in America are still region 1 only. We shouldn’t have to hack into our own systems when we find out about regional codes after we buy our players (I speak here for less knowledgeable people like my father); the damn things should just work.

    And I would be more sympathetic to your European plight, but you have access to the single greatest show of all time, whereas we poor Americans do not. Truly, the balance is shifted more towards your favor.

  32. Anonymous dude says:

    I’ve never bought a DVD disc in my whole life, and probably never will… sounds like a total pain in the …

    The sooner these production/distribution companies and RIAA like organizations die, the better. They are remnants of the last century, before the information age and computerization, and they’re still looking for ways to force the consumers back to their golden age, instead of trying to modernize.

  33. Einar says:

    I suggest that Cody watches this: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0358856/ before stating “the single greatest show of all times”

    And welcome to regional coding, I could not be more happier living in Iceland, allmost no store sells DVD Players anymore that supports multi-regional coding.

    My mother got a DVD Player for christmas, it was locked on region 2 but on the box were instructions on how to “open” all regions, the instruction came from the seller/manufactor

  34. Einar says:

    I ment to say: “no store sells DVD Players anymore that DO NOT support multi regional coding”

    Damn, It´s not normal to me to write in english ;)

  35. Gudmundur says:

    So in conclusion:
    “Todays regional coding is todays technological Rascism.”

    There you have it folks…

  36. JM says:

    Just a note.

    The Living Planet (region 1) is a poorly cut-up and heavily edited version which sucks – do not buy!

    You missed Life in the Freezer which is good and available in Region 1. Also there are plenty of other Attenborough series Private Life of Plants, Lost Worlds-Vanished Lives, etc… that are all very good but not available to region 1.

    Galapagos (2006) is a BBC series (not with Attenborough) but still well done which will be out in region 1 in May. Planet Earth will hopefully be coming out soon to.

    It sucks for everyone these programs are not available for everyone. People in North America could learn alot by these programs but then again maybe the studios don’t want people thinking too much – it could be harder for them to get your money from you.

  37. Sad in Austin says:

    I waited for years for the US coded version of Fall of Eagles to be released. I finally got a copy this last year. Now I search in vain for the BBC David Attenborough “Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives, which is available only from the BBC encoded region 4 and 2. Also, no-code DVD players are hard to come by. Where is a good place to buy one?

  38. JM says:

    Sad in Austin
    Most players can be hacked – try seaching the internet on how to do it. Maybe the player you already have can be “fixed”. Also next time you buy a DVD player buy one that can also play Divx. “Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives” which is great (though some of special effects are a little dated). The above mentioned can be DL on Divx. That is how I saw it in North America and in all likelihood will be the only way.

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