Denied Rights to Movie-watching

On Saturday, I almost spent more time trying to watch movies than actually watching movies. My great foe, Digital Rights Management (DRM for short), reared its ugly head and denied me the right to watch two movies I gained access to through completely legal means (one a Netflix Blu-ray disk rental, the other an Amazon video rental). And this is a problem that has been growing and growing.

You could place part of the blame on my particular pickiness with my own viewing standards for films. I watch most movies on my computer which I have hooked up to a moderately sized monitor. I prefer the privacy of my own room (I live with 4 other people) and also prefer the fine headphones I purchased for their audio quality. Also, I prefer to use open source players that support a lot more features and output better video than proprietary software such as iTunes or Windows Media Player.

The first problem I had was with the Blu-ray disk. In order to watch a Blu-ray on your computer you have to have a Blu-ray player (which I do) as well as software to buy it. Due to the proprietary nature of Sony’s software, this requires certain functions that aren’t widely available, meaning you have to buy certain software. About two years ago, I bought such a program and it has been working fine until maybe this last year or so when certain disks said they required a software update to play.

First of all, this is hogwash. Creating new software to read a disk is nothing more than a thinly veiled scheme to make consumers buy new players and software, which gives Sony more money. There’s no legitimate technical reason I’d have to update software to read a disk. The CD and DVD required no such software upgrades. And, of course, the software I had been using is now outdated for two newer versions of the same software that the vendor, of course, expects me to buy all over again.

I refuse to, because it’s extortion, plain and simple. It would be equivalent to having to buy a new car each year because they upgraded the gas. I spent over an hour looking for a workaround, some way to legally watch the disk I rented on the drive I legally bought. Without paying, there seemed to be no available means. I ended up having to watch the film on the living room TV on a Blu-ray player which gave me the upgrade warning but miraculously played the disk anyway…and this player is older than the Blu-ray drive in my computer.

I should mention this is something I’ve only found with major studio publishers, particularly 20th Century Fox. I can still watch the latest Criterion blu ray releases fine, but every release I’ve gotten from Fox in the past year has suffered this problem. I even own a copy of The Tree of Life I can’t watch on my computer.

My problem with Amazon video is one I should have seen coming. I’ve complained about the service before. Like all video rental sites, it’s terrible for a number of reasons and I only ever use it when I have video credit I’ve accrued and need to access a film in a timely manner. In this case, I was trying to watch an independent film that’s not available for disk rental yet. I should have seen it coming, but when I downloaded the rental (which in retrospect, I shouldn’t have done, I should have just watched it on the site), both Amazon Unbox player and Windows Media player refused to play the file. There’s no easy (or probably legal, for that matter) workaround, no way to watch it on another player. After a bit of research, I contacted Amazon and they refunded part of my credit.

I know a bunch of people are saying “use iTunes” now, but I’ve got a list of reasons why I don’t use iTunes, the primary one being is that I find it incompatible with my media consumption habits. The problem in both cases is that I used legal venues to acquire the films and used legal means to watch them and in both cases I was denied the right to watch the movie I rented. This is a huge problem.

In the time spent trying to fix these problems, I could have gone to any number of piracy sites, downloaded said film and watched it on whatever program or device I wanted without a single problem. But I refuse to do that for a number of reasons, both personal and ethical. The DRM schemes made to prevent me from “stealing” this film actually made me want to steal these films. It’s easier, more convenient, and I wouldn’t have wasted valuable time trying to watch a movie I paid to watch.

In this day and age, you simply can’t protect your content. Someone is going to find a way to steal it. And they’re going to make it easier and more convenient to watch it for “free” than you are after making paying customers spend hard-earned money. You’re biting the hand that feeds you and with each year I’m growing wearier of it. DRM solves nothing. If anything, you’re only creating more pirates and incentivizing more people to not pay you money.

I had a conversation with someone about Skyfall the week before it came out in the states. Before our conversation was done, he turned his laptop around and had a full version of the movie in high-definition playing. It’s that easy. And the film still hasn’t come out on home video yet! The point is that DRM doesn’t protect your content, it never will in this age. The more restrictive you make it, the more you drive people away from buying your products.

This is the solution: make an open library where people can buy and download your movies and do whatever they want with them. Let them watch the films on their TV, phone, computer, etc. Let them watch it with whatever kind of software they want. Make the site nice to look at, easy to use. Make it more convenient than those pirating sites. Don’t restrict it and put gates around it. The people who really want to watch a movie in certain are going to find a way to do it anyway. And that often means circumventing paying entertainment companies. By not allowing them the right to watch a movie as they see fit, you’ll lose customers and that means losing money.

More than anything else, it builds goodwill between businesses and consumers. The better your service and treatment of your customer, the more likely they are to prefer you over other companies. Imagine if Warner Brothers came out with something like this tomorrow and no one else had it. I guarantee you Warner Brothers would have more people clamoring to buy films from them digitally than the other companies. Hollywood needs that kind of goodwill, especially with the growing animosity they are building with consumers with sloppy 3D transfer cash-grabs, a deluge of remakes and adaptations and the ever controversial splitting up of films into parts.

Days like Saturday make me mad at the infrastructure. I’m paying money to be abused. More than that, I’m wasting time for something I could get free and enjoy without a single hitch. I don’t want to have to do that, I want to keep supporting artists even if it means dealing with corporate ignorance and imbecility, but at some point it’s going to be too much. If I’m completely honest, I’m getting to the breaking-point.

© 2013 James Blake Ewing