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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.

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