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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.  [November 8, 2005]





[]  The studios are flooding the market with crappy, rotting, easily scratched DVDs -- and it may be intentional!

You've probably lost count over how many rental DVDs you had to return -- unseen! -- because of the DVD kept skipping or freezing. 

But it wasn't supposed to be this way!

* A Broken Promise


Back in the early 1980s, when video laser discs and CDs arrived on the scene, they were marketed as indestructible! It was said that you could rub sandpaper or a brillo pad over them -- and they'd still play perfectly! This was because however badly scratched the CD's coating was, the laser light would shine right through the scratches, easily reading the protected digital information beneath the coating.

That was a big reason people paid big bucks to replace their scratch-prone vinyl records for the pricier CDs -- which never returned to vinyl prices once they caught on, as they were supposed to.

CDs (and CD-ROMS) are more durable than vinyl lps -- so why are DVDs so easily damaged?


* Conspiracy Theory


In a 1980s video magazine, one writer accused the studios of manufacturing intentionally shoddy VHS tapes so as to retain control of their film libraries.

Don't forget the Sony Betamax case wherein the studios tried to ban VCRs -- or the antitrust cases whereby the studios tried to stop independent video stores from renting movies to the public.

Being anal retentive control-freaks, the studios never wanted to sell (and hence lose control) of their movies. They only wanted to lease tapes to video stores, the same way they leased films to movie theaters. But a series of court cases in the 1970s/80s concerning antitrust, restraint of trade, and fair use in copyright barred the studios from restricting the trade of independent video stores.

It's not far-fetched to suppose that once the studios lost their cases, and knew that films released on tape would forever be out of their control, they would try to regain control by releasing films on tapes (and now DVDs) that would deteriorate over time. That way, studios still had the only decent copies from which to make more copies. YOU, the consumer, had crap.


Horror Film Festivals and Awards


* Faulty Layer Changes

DVDs can sometimes freeze not because they were damaged, but because they left the factory in poor condition! Nigel Pond of Blogcritics says, "If a disc is badly authored, the layer change [on the DVD] can cause some players to pause while the laser refocuses, or to skip, or stop. Some players handle poor layer changes better than others."

In other words, the burden is on YOU, the consumer, to pay extra for a high-end DVD player that can compensate for the studio's crappy manufacturing!


* DVD Rot

Then there's DVD rot. That's right, forget about building a permanent film library -- that's just YOUR money down the toilet. DVDs are so poorly manufactured and rot-prone that if you "bend a DVD to remove it from a hard-gripping case" you may damage the DVDs "because flexing the disc puts strain on the glue [in the DVD]," according to a USA Today report.

So why do the studios release DVDs in cases where you must bend the DVD in order to remove it? Do the studios want you to damage the DVD over time?!

For some reason, CD rot isn't as bad as DVD rot, though CDs rot too. Seems the film biz is sleazier than the music biz -- and that's saying a lot!

Jack Valenti has fulminated that consumers should avoid buying pirated movies partly because pirates' products are technically inferior to that put out by studios. Yet it hard to imagine even pirating releasing DVDs are shoddily manufactured as some of the crap coming out of the studios.


* Format Changes


The studios were right to be so anal -- there's Big Money to be made in selling crappy tapes! The studios made a windfall when consumers built movie libraries on crappy tapes. Now the studios are making another windfall by reselling those same movies to consumers on crappy DVDs!

There's even money in failed formats -- with the consumer left holding the bag! Big Media made out like bandits when people replaced their vinyl collections with 8-tracks, then cassettes, then CDs. So too when Beta was replaced by VHS. And don't forget DAT tapes, 8mm video, RCA video discs, and video laser discs.

With every new music or video format, Big Media's accounting reports show a profit spike. As that format ages, the profits flatten. This is because consumers have finished repurchasing their "must have" music and movies.

Most new CDs and movies bomb. And so Big Media makes its money reselling the same music and movies to the same fans over and over again. No wonder Big Media is stealing YOUR copyright by restricting Fair Use and extending copyright terms. It's easier to resell proven hits than to develop new artists.


Horror Film Aesthetics


* Used Media


As much as the studios love format changes, they hate used media -- another reason to manufacture fragile DVDs. Durable DVDs would be resold on Amazon and Ebay for decades. Studios earn nothing on the sale of used DVDs. Whereas consumers are more likely to replace fragile DVDs during the next format change.

Media companies have long hated the sale of used media. Publishers tried to pressure Amazon to stop selling used books alongside new books. And recording companies have long lobbied -- so far unsuccessfully -- to impose a resale royalty on the sale of used CDs.

Recording companies did succeed in imposing a royalty on blank tapes and CD, which YOU pay for whether you copy their music or not! And publishers have long tried to impose a royalty on photocopiers!

Bottom line, the Hilary Rosens and Jack Valentis don't want you to own durable music and film libraries -- just to pay for them -- again and again and again!

Is it possible to manufacture an inexpensive and durable DVD? And if so, would it be permitted to reach market?

One thing is certain -- Jack Valenti is wrong when he bragged that the studios release tapes and DVDs of higher quality than those of pirates. A pirate would be hard-pressed to manufacture DVDs as shoddy as some of the crap the studios are releasing. 

But the real scandal is that while the pirates are trying to sell a quality product, the studios are trying to do the opposite.


* Captive Audience DVDs

Finally, the studios don't just steal your money by selling DVDs designed to fail (planned obsolescence, as some manufacturers call it) -- they steal your time!

Studio DVDs often force you to sit through FBI warnings and logos and promos that you could fast forward though on tape. Thus, ironically, tapes are superior to DVDs in terms of the control they offer YOU, the consumer. That needn't be so. DVDs offer more potential control. But the studios have killed DVD's potential for consumer control by treating YOU as their captive audience!



* True-Life DVD Horror Stories


Consider Halloween Resurrection. When I popped it the DVD into the player, I saw the FBI warning, then the Dimension logo, then ... NOTHING.

It just sat there, a black screen.

I waited and waited. I pushed the menu and play buttons, among others. Every time I pressed a button that familiar stop sign flashed in the corner of the screen.

I removed the DVD and popped it in again. The problem persisted.

So I returned the DVD to Netflix and got a replacement copy. 

Same problem!

So I popped the DVD into my Thinkpad laptop, and it worked. Sort of.

I got past the black screen, but the DVD froze during the credits. So I ejected it and tried again -- and sat through the FBI warning and Dimension logos yet again -- but I was finally able to see the movie on my laptop. Which is not the same as seeing it on a decent-sized TV screen.

Apparently, my Thinkpad laptop more easily corrects for bad "layer changes" or rot or whatever was wrong this time -- than does my JVC DVD player.

Still, you gotta give Dimension credit. No matter how poorly manufactured their DVD is, Dimension makes certain that that FBI warning and the Dimension logo is always seen. No problem with warnings and promos playing correctly.

The Be Cool DVD contains more than just the movie. It contains:

* A 48 second advertisement saying "You wouldn't steal a car, you wouldn't steal a ... etc. So don't pirate a movie."

* Then a 2'12" promo for some other movie.

That's three minutes of ads and promos YOU are FORCED to sit through, unable to fast forward or go to the main menu.

The studio whines about pirates stealing their copyright -- yet the studio has no compunction STEALING YOUR TIME!

Hey, if I wanted to pay for the privilege of wasting my time watching ads and promos, I'd go to the local cineplex!

When you think about the 100s of millions of DVDs sold and rented and viewed over the years, I'd estimate that the studios have STOLEN several MILLIONS OF HOURS from viewers forced to sit through promos and other crap on their DVDs.

At least the pirates aren't stealing your time!

The Guess Who DVD opens with the usual time-stealers.

*  TWO promos.

*  Then TWO warnings not to infringe copyright.

*  Then TWO disclaimers about the audio commentary.

*  Then when you think you're finally going to see Guess Who, the DVD manufacturing is so slipshod, the film skips and stalls 50 minutes into the film!

*  And then you discover that you can't even return to the menu -- the DVD has disabled that feature! Every time you hit the menu button, you see that little stop sign in the corner of your TV screen!

What's the point of a menu button if the studio disables it? Hey, Columbia, the menu button is there for a reason!

So now your DVD is stuck. And you can't return the menu to return to the scene to see if the DVD will skip again. You must remove the DVD and ONCE AGAIN sit through the TWO promos and TWO warnings and TWO disclaimers...

So I return the DVD to Netflix -- but the replacement copy of Guess Who freezes again! Only this copy is so shoddy, I can't even get the scene menu to work!


But the mother of all straight-jacketed DVDs is Carlita's Secret, so grievous an offender that it merited its own Special Report.


And be sure to read our special Investigator report on how Big Studios are stealing YOUR copyrights!
YOU May wish to read:

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity.

Also consider:

Pirates of the Digital Millennium: How the Intellectual Property Wars Damage Our Personal Freedoms, Our Jobs, and the World Economy.

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