MaxBarry.com
not as edgy as you'd think

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Mon 29
Dec
2008

Dear Warner Bros.

What Max Reckons You remember me. You bought the film rights to my novel Jennifer Government, for Steve Soderbergh and George Clooney. Didn’t work out, but that’s not your fault. These things happen. I hope we can work again some day. That’s not why I’m writing.

I’m writing because yesterday I rented The Dark Knight, and I couldn’t watch it. I tried. But when I popped that DVD into my home theater PC and snuggled up on the sofa with my wife, it wouldn’t play.

At first I thought the disc must be damaged. I tried it in my laptop: no dice there, either. So I took it back to the video store and swapped it for a new one. They were very apologetic, by the way, Warners. I guess they understand that physically traveling to a bricks-and-mortar store is kind of a pain, and when you’re in business against digital downloads, you don’t want to make your transactions more difficult than they already are.

Home with my fresh DVD, I tried again. But still: didn’t work. A little Googling later, I discovered the disc was indeed damaged, and by who: you.

You’ve installed some new anti-piracy protection onto The Dark Knight DVDs, which prevents the disc from playing in my PC. Well, “prevents:” it took me an hour of messing around to figure out how to rip it. I didn’t want to rip it, Warners. I only wanted to watch it. I think it may actually be illegal to rip copy-protected DVDs where I live. But you engineered your disc so that it wouldn’t play in my DVD player: this was the only way I could access the content I’d paid for.

Now, I understand that home theater PCs are kind of new-fangled, Warners, and not everyone wants to watch their DVD on a computer or laptop. But some of us do, more every day. I think you need to get over the idea that PCs are just for pirates.

Please, help me out here: who does your protection scheme target? It can’t be the real pirates; they are barely slowed by such things, and you surely know this. If I’d wanted to download The Dark Knight illegally, it would have been quick and easy; there’s no shortage of places to find it, and the copies are high-quality. Unlike your DVD, they are also ad-free, play without a hitch, and would have spared me three trips to the video store.

I think your target must be the average consumer: someone with a PC and a legitimate copy of your DVD, but limited technical knowledge. This person will be defeated by your anti-piracy protection, at least for the moment. But what does this gain you? I’m honestly stumped. These are not the people who are distributing copies over the internet. They are, at worst, time-shifting a rental, or handing out a copy to their friends. A copy of a store-purchased DVD, that is. They are that tiny, precious slice of the population who has decided to give you their money: your customers.

When you optioned my book, Warners, I noticed the contract provided for a cut of the film’s eventual revenue to the MPAA. I felt a little uneasy at this, because even back then I wasn’t comfortable with the shenanigans that organization was up to. The unskippable copyright notices at the start of movies, for example: that’s half the reason I swapped to a home theater PC in the first place. There is something wrong, in my opinion, when a machine I purchased, playing a DVD I purchased, tells me I’m not allowed to use the fast-forward button.

I understand piracy is a serious problem for you. I really do. You’ll get no argument from me that wholesale downloading of copyright material easily available from legitimate channels is morally indefensible. If we can sensibly fix that, I’m right there with you. But you seem to be hell-bent on converting your entire customer base into pirates. You are facing competition that offers your product at zero cost and maximum ease of use, and you respond by breaking your own DVDs.

So, next film deal, I’m striking that clause out. No more MPAA funding from my material. And Warners, it’s not because I’m angry. It’s not because I want that hour back I spent trying to get your busted DVD to play. It’s because you need to stop this. Really, it’s for your own good.

Comments

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Karan (#1376)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Quid Quid Latine Dictum Sit, Altum Viditur - Anything said in Latin sounds important"
Posted: 2121 days ago

Well, that nixes my plans to buy The Dark Knight DVD, and I can only assume the Blu-ray disc is similarly encumbered - which is a real pity, since it's such a good movie. It's also been available on the interwebs for a while, well before the DVD came out here in Oz.

I applaud the decision to stand for your principles in any film deal negotiations, but I wonder - are there any major studios outside the MPAA system? I can only assume it would be difficult to set this condition aside... (and is there a 'Book PAA'? :P)

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 2121 days ago

You tell 'em, Max. I always say the record industry brought about the universal piracy of CDs. Even though early CDs sounded terrible, worse even than cassettes in many cases, they used them to replace vinyl records with the promise that the price would come down. Then they insisted, way too long, on LP prices for CDs. If they'd lowered the price from $18 to $3, they'd have still made a nice 100% to 150% markup on their cost at a price that would only have made Napster look like too much bother.

Dennis (#3776)

Location: Syracuse
Posted: 2121 days ago

I just watched the Blue Ray DVD on my Home Theater PC. NetFlix shipped it to me. No problems to report.

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 2120 days ago

It's the same thing with games too now. I refuse to buy Spore because EA says that it has to install a rootkit on my PC. Or rather, they don't say, they just install it behind your back and the only way to remove this nasty little piece of business is to reformat your entire PC. And don't get me started on how some games, possessed of NO online game aspect whatsoever, demand to be hooked up to the internet to be verified!

All these anti-piracy things ever do is screw up the people who paid for them. The pirates, now, they work out how to get around it in about 5 minutes and point and laugh and tell the poor pissed-off consumer "Come over here, I have the shiny shiny free and unfettered, without the complimentary shafting that comes with the genuine thing. Feel the pull of Bittorrent..."

Not only that, but then you have old grannies with their first ever PC, who don't know how to use it properly and who have never ever downloaded a pirate Neil Diamond CD, much less The Dark Knight or Spore, getting letters from studios and developers saying "You own a PC and an internet connection YOU FILTHY PIRATE. We demand £1500 or we'll see you in court and we'll sue you for every last cat and cardigan you own!" Because the pirates know they watch IP addresses that go through Bittorrent, and chuck a few red herrings into their logs, because IP tracking is useless.

Film studios, music labels and games developers need to get a clue, and if they don't do it soon, the more people will have gotten accustomed to pirating, and you can't sue everyone.

Colette (#324)

Location: Boise, Idaho, USA
Quote: "What's popcorn made of?"
Posted: 2120 days ago

Max, once again, you are my hero. Also, you should check out a little film called _This Film Not Yet Rated_. It's about the MPAA and their shenanigans. I think you'll find that it's pleasantly informative about the MPAA and their bilious actions.

Arancaytar (#2358)

Location: Frankfurt
Quote: "We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. -Sagan"
Posted: 2120 days ago

*applauds*

You tell them, Max!

The actions of MPAA really don't make any sense - unless you start from the premise that their business model no longer is selling movies, but litigating "pirates". Then it makes perfect sense why they are breaking their product and forcing their customers into piracy.

Hans Miniar (#2600)

Location: Iceland
Quote: "~your love is made of happy, and sometimes exhasperation~"
Posted: 2120 days ago

And it's posts like these that make people love ya.
Mind you, I still have an "old fashioned" dvd player and no desire nor intent to get another one until this one grinds to a halt and stops functioning at all. Which might take anywhere between 6 months and six years, but hey, I got mine for free so what can ya expect.

The MPAA don't appear to have thought their actions through what so ever, so I wouldn't give them money either. They don't even know what they're doing with it.

Kmuzu (#3777)

Location: Vegas Baby
Quote: "Elvis Lives!"
Posted: 2120 days ago

You got this all wrong. WB couldn't give a damn about customers or movies. It doesn't matter to them if anyone is able to watch that stupid Batman movie. Allow the Mighty Kmuzu to teach you the meaning of the new ass monkey corporation. It's sorta like a Kafka story.

Of all the DVD's purchased this Christmas, my guess is:

30 percent of DVD's are not opened in the first year.
25 percent of malfunctioning product is never returned.
10 percent probably think it's their fault
5 percent of the stores won't take it back

So, 70 percent of the problem just vanishes right off the bat. I'm guessing when all is said and done only 7 to 5 percent of the customer base really get upset enough to do anything about it.

Are the stockholders worried that customers can't play the DVD's? Nope, they're worried about piracy. So it is more important to WB that piracy is prevented rather than the DVD actually functions. As a matter of fact it is better if the DVD doesn't function, because the customer has to return to the store. That makes the store happy. The DVD is still counted as purchased. That makes WB happy. And chances are the customer will purchase another WB product. WB is even more happy ..er .. happier.

See everyone is happy. That is everyone should be happy – except you. Why are you unhappy Max? Cause you're not being a good American Max? Maybe you're not playing on the same team. Got have your own rules don't ya Max. You're itchin' to be some sort of rabble rouser, contra-consumer, fly in the great purchasing ointment with this blog of yours.

I say let it go. Put the DVD on the shelf .. that's right ... next to the unwatched “Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf” and “Pulp Fiction” and forget about it. Just feel privileged that you played a small part in the giant cycle of American consumerism.

Jack (#2443)

Location: Australia, Bendigo
Posted: 2120 days ago

You're absolutely right Max. Infact, if I see something has excessive protection that hinders use by regular people, I pirate it, on principle.

You're right, there is nothing out there that can't be pirated, and this 'protection' is nothing more than a headache for the average person. I bet more people get pirated versions of things when they find the legal copies don't work anyway.

These kinds of companies, Warner Bros, others in the film industry, gaming and music industries, their gonna' be made damn rich anyway, it's just plain greedy that they quibble over a few pirated things.

Hallie (#2348)

Location: Reading, UK
Quote: "Dancing is the vertical expression of horizontal action"
Posted: 2120 days ago

I totally agree! I was watching the DVD of a TV series I got for Christmas and the first 5 minutes of every disc (there are 6) is of the anti piracy propaganda. It's like in the cinema where you have to pay to go in and then they give you a lecture on piracy. It makes you feel like a criminal even though you paid!
The DVDs tend not to be cheap and so I've had to wait to get them when I could very easily have got them off the internet but even now I own them I don't appear to actually own them.

Brittany O. (#1688)

Location: Montana
Quote: "My love calls me Boom..."
Posted: 2120 days ago

It is literally the joy of my day when Max writes and I open my happy little inbox and there is an e-mail telling me there is a new blog.

On the down side-- could we not have posted this blog about 2 days ago. I am so saddened now. I just bought the Dark Night but have not watched it. I opened it. grrr. Maybe the store I purchased it from will take it back??? I shall tell them it will not play... we will have to see what they have to say about that.

Thank you for the heads up!!!

Megan (#3607)

Location: New England
Quote: "There are no absolutes. Except for that one."
Posted: 2120 days ago

Thank you for writing this so plainly and simply and amusingly, Max. Not that you're the first to do it, and I'm quite sure you won't be the last. Not that the companies pulling this crap are paying any attention whatsoever.

But hey, if they insist on driving their legitimate paying customers away, then I guess we'll all just have to become pirates. And really, doesn't a world full of pirates sound cool?

Now excuse me while I run up the jolly roger on the Good Ship Dell Inspiron!

Greg Karber (#1568)

Location: gregkarber.com
Posted: 2120 days ago

I wondered why the DVDs in Wal-Mart were all offering a downloadable digital copy free with the purchase. I knew that wasn't just a nice little bonus feature, and now I see what's going on.

I'm with you all the way on this one, Max. Hoist the Jolly Roger and let's go sailing. Argh.

Valadur (#3780)

Posted: 2119 days ago

ATTA BOY JACK!!!!! ARRRR!!!!

And Max, my boy, you CAN bypass that copy-protect crap! One can be bypassed using fast-forward and the other with scene skip. They dont want to make it easy on ya but they dont want to watch it either. I can never remember what order it is but I skip it all the time. Now the question is hoe long till I get sued for telling you and letting out the secret lol.

Jennifer M. Dambeck (#3061)

Location: NJ, USA
Quote: "Rock on"
Posted: 2119 days ago

Right on Man!

Jens The Benz (#3718)

Location: Boeswipper-County / FRG
Quote: "What part of YES don't you understand?"
Posted: 2119 days ago

Hurray!!

Machine Man subscriber Stygian Emperor (#2947)

Location: Austin, TX
Quote: "Hope is but the first step down the path to disappointment."
Posted: 2118 days ago

Haha, did you like the movie after all that crap?

towr (#1914)

Location: Netherlands
Posted: 2117 days ago

@Kmuzu
"Why are you unhappy Max? Cause you're not being a good American Max?"

I would hazard to guess that he's not being a good American because he is in fact Australian. Those ozzies are tricky that way. :P

Machine Man subscriber Jarrad (#837)

Location: Hobart
Posted: 2116 days ago

Wait... there won't be a Jen Gov movie?

tasha (#3788)

Location: Australia
Posted: 2115 days ago

We DVD vendors are sick to death with the imcompatabilities between DVDs and their players. Whether it's the anti-piracy rubbish, a manufacturing fault or the simple fact they are easily damaged by the lack of commonsense my customers have in handling them, we always cop the flak. Even if they don't like downloading the movie everyone has the software to rip discs. I get so many pirated copies of movies returned in my cases that it makes me laugh. I seriously don't care if someone has burnt the DVD they just hired, but please put my copy back in so can return it and don't get upset at the fact I've just thrown out your illegal disc. So how bout putting more money into making decent movies people want to watch than the drivel I've had to put on the shelves the last few months.

marcerosemberg (#3789)

Posted: 2115 days ago

More than a W.B. strategy, I believe it's something a little bigger. There's something called DRM (Digital Rights Management). It consists on different mechanisms, both on hardware and software that, one way or the other, prevent you from watching or listening DVDs, mostly, with the excuse that something you are using may not be fully legal. Let's say you buy an original DVD, you make a copy of it with the computer you bought and the programs you bought to keep it in your car. Probably it won't work either.
This DRM stuff also does something else, which is the worst in my opinion: they send information from your own PC to somewhere else with this information, what you wanted to see or listen to. It may sound paranoid, but it's quite a good and easy way to get profiles. So no matter how legal you are, even in the privacy of your home you'll have this kind of spy.
As far as I know, all new computers (let's say, those that came after Windows XP) have this system installed -the same system in CDs, DVDs, in the programs, etc-, and the creepy thing is companies (guess who, it's easy) are pushing to make this not only legal but also compulsory in international commerce treaties, with the excuse it's used to fight piracy.
I could be wrong, sure, but... i'd take a closer look on this DRM thing.

Gerald (#3798)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posted: 2109 days ago

I still remember when Village had this unskippable pre-movie ad about ... DVDs, and how they put me "in control" -- what control?

And these days, more and more DVDs have unskippable movie ads, like old-days VHS. And it's not just on rental DVDs, I'm talking about real full-price DVDs!

And everytime, it's pushing me closer to what I don't want to become, a pirate. I just want to watch the movie I bought, and I want to do that seconds after I insert the disc! I'm getting jealous when I see pirates who get movies before they're in cinemas and can watch them at a click of a mouse ("what copy protection?" they ask, lucky bastards).

Leanne Tonkes (#3801)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 2107 days ago

So Max, does this mean the option is now available on this one? And while we're talking options, what is the status on your other works. Summer reading has allowed me into your world, and frankly I'm intrigued and wishing I'd discovered you earlier.


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