12 June 2006

Chapter II – Major Restrictions on DVDs

In which Private Infringer first does battle mano-a-mano with the American “Digital Millennium Copyright Act”

Infringer couldn't wait to see this new DVD. He tore open the package as he walked up the two flights of stairs to his apartment. He had been waiting for this for a while. “The Making of, The Making of Doctor Who Season 28”. It included a special bonus feature too. “The Saga of Shada. How episode 6 of season 7 got filmed, cancelled, filmed again, lost, found, buried in the mud, found again, repaired, and finally turned to a great featurette about how it really wasn't such a great episode anyway but at least it gave us something great to make this featurette about.”. And they say there isn't anything good on television these days.

He got to the door of his apartment and fumbled with the DVD, the opened package, the rest of his mail, the Anne of Green Gable (TM) figurine, and now his keys. He worked hard to prevent any of it from falling. So inevitably, all of it did.

When he did finally get the door open he picked up the contents of the floor from outside his door and carelessly dumped it all on the nearest table. This was going to be great he thought. Way better then that old movie he started downloading this morning. Oh wait. He pause for a moment to consider this. He had told Oprah that if he actually did manage to successfully download that movie that the two of them could watch it tonight.

Oprah Source was his girlfriend, and despite being a technical wizard with computers she was not a big science fiction fan. Very unusual Infringer always thought, for a technical guru not to be heavily interested in science fiction. Oh well, it was also very unusual for a woman to be such a technical guru, so perhaps one peculiarity cancelled out the other one.

He paused. Unless of course you were suppose to add them.

Oh well, Oprah was just going to have to put up with it tonight. Private Infringer was definitely going to watch this movie.

He made his way over to the DVD player figuring if he started watching it now, then when Oprah got here she would (a) find it more difficult to stop him from watching it, and (b) there would be that much less that she would have to sit through. See, he was thinking of her needs as much as he was thinking of his own.

He stuck the DVD into the machine, grabbed the remote, turned on his new 50” Sony Alphamax HDMI compliant 1080p progressive scan widescreen HDTV LCD flat screen wiz bang television, plunked himself down on the chesterfield and settled in to be entertained.

This television was the best investment he had ever made. It was brand new 6 months ago and cost him a whooping $4000. But it was worth every penny. He could watch movies with amazing clarity, on a big screen, with fantastic sound, and all from the privacy of his living room. It worked great too. Flawlessly. At least for the first 4 months. Then 2 months ago it started shutting itself down unexpectedly. The first time it happened Oprah was watching “Pride and Prejudice”. It happened again a few days later when she was watching one of the “Bridget Jones” movies. Then finally again when she was watching another movie “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Infringer was beginning to think perhaps it had something to do with his girlfriend, but when he called the manufacturer he discovered that no, it was just a software bug, and it was really caused by watching movies with Colin Firth in them. Unfortunately he discovered this a month too late as the television had at that point been discontinued, and the company does not support it any more. Now Infringer and Oprah just settle for not watching any Colin Firth movies. Ah yes, the best investment he ever made.

Private Infringer was not sitting on his comfortable chesterfield for very long before he noticed that something was wrong. First he noticed the alternating red and blue background on the TV screen. Rather hard to miss actually. The screen was so big and produced so much light that it lit up his whole living room in alternating red, then blue light. He felt like he was inside the projector for one of those cheap 3D movies where everyone has to wear those glasses with the red and blue lenses and everyone invariably leaves the theater with a headache. In the centre of the screen was a stationary white box with text in it. “This audio visual equipment in not licensed to view this disc” At the bottom in smaller text it said, “Please do not attempt to watch this again or we will be forced to sue your grandmother just as soon as the RIAA is finished with her”. That's odd thought Private Infringer. His grandmother died 6 years ago.

Infringer got himself up and walked across the room to the DVD player. He ejected the DVD, then tried putting it back in again. Another message appeared on the flashing screen. “I told you. Do not attempt to watch this movie. This equipment is not properly licensed for viewing this DVD and any attempt to circumvent these restrictions is a direct violation of the DMCA” What was the DMCA? The words sounded familiar, but Infringer could not recall what they were.

More words appeared on the screen now. “The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed by Congress in 1998 to address new issues in copyright law that were introduced as a result of new advances in technology, and to follow through on the commitment America made when it signed the WIPO Copyright Treaty of 1996. Part of the act states that we can put any measure we want in place to control, by whom, when, and where, our content is viewed. And you have no rights to say otherwise. In fact we can have you locked up if you disagree with us in any material way. Now go away.” When Infringer finished reading this the drawer of the DVD player popped open and Infringer's new disc flew out and landed on the floor. The drawer snapped closed again with a distinct attitude of smugness.

Well, this was absurd. So the machine wasn't licensed. So what? What did this have to do with Infringer? He paid good money for this DVD, and now he was being told that he could not watch it because the machine had apparently entered into some kind of licensing deal and had agreed not to show this DVD? Infringer hadn't made any such deal, and this DMCA thing couldn't apply to him. Could it? He paid for this DVD after all. As far as he was concerned this only made the machine defective.

He picked up the disc, dusted it off, and walked over to his computer on the other side of the room. It had a DVD-ROM. Maybe it would be a little more willing to read the disc. Perhaps he could copy the contents to a blank disc and try again on his entertainment system. Or, worse comes to worse, watch it on the computer monitor.

He put the disc into the computer and immediately Media Player came up. Ah great, thought infringer, at least now he could see the video. However Media Player too refused to play the DVD. It said that it too was not licensed to view this disc, made some scurrilous comments, this time something about Infringer's mother, and then promptly closed.

Private Infringer was beginning to get more than a little frustrated. He began to think. There was another piece of software somewhere on his computer. Something that Oprah put on a while ago. What was it again? He began checking all the different menus to try to find it. Ah, there is was, “DVD Copy Plus”. If he was remembering what Oprah said at the time, this software does not exist any more. Apparently the company that made it, 321 Studios, got sued out of existence by the motion picture industry some years back. That was probably a result of this annoying DMCA thing as well.

He ran this program, then tried to navigate through it's maze of menus and options. He did not really know what he was doing so he just stuck with the defaults for any options that were presented. And within about a minute the software had found the DVD and was happily working away at ripping it. Hallelujah. It was working. And the little timer in the window said it was only going to take 58 minutes to complete. Sigh. This was definitely turning out to be a little more complicated then he had imagined.

Infringer sat for a minute watching the timer count down when suddenly there was a loud crash coming from his bedroom. He immediately jumped to his feet and started running to the bedroom. The crashing sounds continued as he ran.

He got to the door within seconds and opened it to discover a very large and intimidating man in army fatigues standing on the other side of his bed. The man was immense. Standing at least a full 2 meters tall and wider probably than the bedroom door. Just how did he get into Private Infringer's bedroom?

Infringer gave out a gasp of horror and then meekly asked “Wh-wh-who are you?”

“My name is Major Restrictions”, said the man, with a strong authoritative voice similar to Captain Copyright's but also with a strong southern, Louisiana accent.

Major Restrictions was as awkward as he was large. He was certainly use to throwing his weight around though, even though doing so with his obvious lack of coordination inevitably lead to unnecessary damage.

He walked cumbersomely towards Private Infringer, but tripped over the corner of Infringer's bed as he tried to navigate around it. The bed complained about this with a loud snap and promptly fell apart under Restrictions great weight.

Private Infringer backed up as Major Restrictions righted himself again and approached the bedroom door.

“What do you want?”, asked Infringer, not at all sure if he really wanted to know the answer.

“You have been trying to circumvent the Technological Protection Measures which were put in place to protect the content of the DVD you just purchased. Those Technological Protection Measures were put in place to protect the content from evil hideous acts of piracy. I am here to protect the content owners rights.”

“Ah well, that's good you see. I bought this DVD.”, Infringer emphasized the word bought rather strongly. “And, huh, I haven't been able to make it work.”

“You should not have bought it.” Shot back Major Restrictions.


“That DVD, the same as all major release DVDs, is encrypted. All DVD players have to be licensed to play the encrypted DVDs. That way the major motion picture industry can be sure that the machines are trustworthy and will not contribute to piracy.”

“But my machine can play all my other DVDs, Aren't they encrypted too?”

“Ah yes, but the encryption on those DVD's is different then the encryption on this DVD. The encryption on the DVD has to match the license for the DVD player. Your DVD is encrypted for Europe and the player is only licensed for North America.”

“What, so my DVD player can't be trusted not to pirate European DVDs? You think it'll pop off when nobody is looking and try to sell a few copies on eBay?”

“No” Major Restrictions was looking rather upset now, “It's because films don't tend to be released around the world at the same time. The restrictions are so that while a movie is being released in one region, it cannot be pirated and sold in another region before its release there.”

“Oh, you mean it's a marketing tool so you can extract the maximum possible in any given market without having to compete with... hmmm.. Yourself!”

“Now listen you good for nothing little pirate...” but Infringer interrupted him loudly before he could continue.

“But I bought this DVD. It isn't pirated. Your encryption seems to only be hampering my legitimate use of my property. I bet it does nothing for real pirating as I'm sure lots of stuff is available in flea markets and over the Internet despite your encryption.”

“The DVD you bought was released for the European market. Not the North American market. Therefore you purchasing it and importing it here is piracy!”


“That doesn't matter”, countered Major Restrictions. “The disc is yours, but you still have no right to the content. The DMCA says we have the right to limit your rights when we are enforcing our own rights. We have the right to force you to stop what you are doing when you try infringe our rights”

“You mean when I try to exercise my right to access the content of my disc?”

“That's right”

Private Infringer had a confused look on his face.

Major Restrictions raised his 'statutory damages' ray gun. It was quite similar to Captain Copyright's but much bigger and far more lethal.

Private Infringer had to think quickly. He remembered how General Intelligence saved him from Captain Copyright less than an hour ago.

“Wait,” Exclaimed Infringer, “the DMCA is an American law. Therefore you have no jurisdiction here.”

“American laws applies to every one”, shot back Major Restrictions, and began to take careful aim at Private Infringer.

“Certainly the rest of the world is affected by American laws to a ridiculous degree, but it still does not apply here, and definitely not this DMCA. You are going to need a court order to take any action against me.”

At this, Major Restrictions ray gun evaporated. “What!” exclaimed Major Restrictions suddenly.

Private infringer gathered his wits and then started pushing Major Restrictions out. Major Restrictions, without the necessary court documentation was helpless, and could not resist Private Infringer's pushing.

“You can't do this” Major Restrictions protested.

Infringer only responded with grunts as he strained himself pushing the massive burdensome weight of Major Restrictions out of his apartment door.

“You can't get rid of me”, Major Restrictions yelled at the top of his voice. “Canada signed the WIPO Copyright Treaty.”

“But we didn't ratify it”, rebutted Infringer.

Infringer expelled a final grunt as he gave Restrictions one last push out the door. As he slammed the door Major Restrictions yelled one final and ominous statement. “We still control your DVD players. We will control everything.”

Infringer breathed a sigh of relief once he had slammed the door shut and locked it. Major Restrictions was right on several very significant points though. His American corporate cohorts did indeed still control his DVD player, and most everybody else's too. They also control much of the functionality of computers and are working very hard to control HD televisions and HD video discs too. Also Canada did sign the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which although technically we are not required to ratify, that is none the less, what our trading partners expect and there have not been any strong voices of objection at home. Heck even without having ratified that agreement, our government was doing precious little to protect consumers rights. Without DMCA style legislation here we still have American corporations controlling our DVD players and other equipment. How bad would it get if we had DMCA style legislation like Major Restrictions and his accomplices wanted? This all quite worried Infringer, but he wasn't sure what he could do about it.

Private Infringer sat down again at his computer. Thirty four minutes left now.

A horrible thought crossed his mind though. Canada, he realized, does not have any fair use provision in its copyright laws. Technically that meant that right now he was breaking copyright laws by copying the DVD. He remembered Captain Copyright, tied up in the street with red tape. How long would that tape hold him? Would Copyright find out what Infringer was doing? He might not get off so easily next time. Infringer sat there staring at his computer for the next few minutes. He really wanted to watch this DVD.

Suddenly he jumped with a sudden shriek when he heard a loud knock at the door.

To be continued...