Showing all posts tagged media:

Apparently, borders are still a thing

We live in a cosmopolitan world, in which crazes and fads can spread around the globe as fast as the bits can get through the pipes. You can make friends (or enemies) of people on the other side of the world, and speak to them more often and more meaningfully than people on the other side of the street. Every day we move closer to a world without borders.

Unless, that is, you are trying to buy or sell content.


I have never watched the Godfather films (I know, I know), and with some intercontinental travel coming up, I thought this would be a good time to load them up on my iPad and finally catch up - forty years late, but who’s counting?

Since I no longer have any truck with physical media, my first stop was iTunes. At first I thought they did not have the films, but this turned out to be because I live in Italy, and so they are listed as Il Padrino. Fair enough, except that it’s not just the title card that’s Italian; the only soundtrack available is an Italian dub. It’s not even the original, it’s a re-dub, and the reviews are all one-stars complaining about the new dub.

Of course iTunes has all three Godfather films in the US store, but Apple in their wisdom tie your iTunes account to the country your credit card is registered in.1 This means I can’t simply download the English-language version from the US store.

We don’t get Netflix in Italy, because we have crazy regulations here in Europe, but there are any number of video-streaming services. Unfortunately, I want to watch the film offline, in an aeroplane, so they are no use to me.

Back when I still did physical media, what I would do is buy the DVD from Amazon - which, infuriatingly, was often cheaper than the download versions. DVDs all come with original-language soundtracks as well as whatever dub applies, so I’d just rip the DVD (thank you, DeCSS) and watch it that way. However, I no longer own a computer with a DVD drive, so that’s out.

I tried shopping around for other options, but ended up torrenting the blasted thing2, promising myself I will buy it once Apple actually deign to accept my money.3 This is a bit like my recent efforts to buy albums I used to own on (copied) cassettes. I’d rather you didn’t think of it as theft, more as deferred revenue.

Seriously, would it not be easier just to let me give you money? When piracy is not only free, but actually the quickest and easiest way to get the content, what is the point of walls? For every dollar you make by forcing someone to jump through your Ultraviolet hoops, you lose thousands to people who refuse to have anything to do with you - this time, or in future.

Well done.

UPDATE: In a nice coincidence, Facebook reminds me that region locks aren't just for movies by releasing their new app, Paper, for the US only. Because of course nobody outside the US wants it.

Let's break this down. It's not a volume issue, since most FB users are in the US. It's not a language issue, because plenty of people speak English outside the US.4 It's not a content issue, because the content is people's FB streams.

So: why?

Especially when it’s easy to jump the fence.

Image by Martin Wessely via Unsplash

  1. Yes, there are hacks, but by the time I realised this was an issue, it would have been too much hassle to switch accounts. 

  2. The irony is strong with this one.  

  3. Yes, I know it’s not just Apple here, it’s probably the studios’ fault at least as much as Apple’s for restricting the rights in the first place (hello, region-coding on DVDs!). 

  4. In fact we speak proper English. British English is not a dialect, dagnabbit. 

On Piracy

This is a post that has been festering for a while, but no matter how long I let it simmer, it refused to boil down to 140 chars so I could tweet it. The whole reason for this blog is to post thoughts which are too long for Twitter and too not-job-related and/or controversial for my work blog, so here goes.

I get the outrage about SOPA and ACTA and all their little friends. They are enormously big sticks to wave around, and the risk is that when all you have is a big stick, you use it every time, and end up squishing everything in the general vicinity of what you were aiming at.


I was talking to a colleague today, and while I don't know exactly what he makes, it's surely into low six figures (in Euros). We were discussing smart TVs and the relative merits of serving content via DLNA directly to the TV versus using something like an AppleTV. I was making the case for the latter, and his counter-argument was that all the films he downloads can be read directly by his TV as soon as the download completes, while most would require transcoding to work with the AppleTV. I was a bit non-plussed and probed deeper, only to discover that this colleague downloads several movies per week completely illegally.

Now, I'm the first to complain about the ridiculous anti-piracy warnings on DVDs, the region coding, the unskippable trailers and ads, and so on - on content I already paid for, let’s not forget. However, my answer is to rip the DVD first thing and watch it via the AppleTV. The actual disc gets played once or twice to get the special content, and then it goes on the shelf as back-up or to be loaned out to friends.

This seems to me the honest approach, and I'm not saying that (just) because I make my living off for-pay software.

I do the same sort of thing with audio CDs, but there it's pure self-interest. Let's take an example from my wish list. The CD of "Bloody Kisses" by Type O Negative is currently GBP3.99, versus GBP6.99 for the MP3 download of the album. Plus this way I get a backup copy, the cover art and liner notes, and it adds to the wall of CDs which share responsibility with books for hiding the walls in my house. MP3s and e-books aren't good for furnishing.

When I mentioned this approach to my colleague he, and others in the room, called me a chump. Why would I spend money on something I can get so easily for free?

Er, because it's stealing?

If this is the attitude among people who cannot make even a pretence of not being able to afford the content, it makes me sympathize with the MPAA and their ilk. If I were suddenly to sprout musical ability, get signed and release an album, I would expect to be paid for it, and consider people downloading it to be stealing food from my table.

We can have the argument about the percentage of profits that goes to record companies as opposed to artists another time.

Also the argument about the value-for-money of most mainstream artists.

Also about obsolete business models - buggy-whips and gas lanterns.

The point remains: these works were created for pay, they were put on sale for money, and yet large swathes of the population, even among people affluent enough to be easily able to pay, consider it perfectly acceptable and unexceptional to pay nothing.

If we as a society are OK with this, we should not be surprised that the owners of that content get a bit hysterical and take a "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude, even when the questions are quite reasonable ones from people who would love to pay for content if only it were re-released. Or available in their region. Or available in a convenient format. Or not encumbered with restrictions on personal and other fair use.

The time to argue about right-to-roam is not when the game-keeper catches you with a haunch of venison in one hand and a leg of swan in the other.