Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Legal downloads! (And they're already screwing 'em up.)

For the first time, movie lovers can legally download feature films. As I've touted this before as an inevitable evolutionary development in film distribution, I'm happy to see it finally exists. But why am I not more enthusiastic? Because again, the industry has gone apeshit with DRM and is slapping ridiculous restrictions on the films you purchase through Movielink and CinemaNow. From the article I've linked:

Usage rules remain restrictive for the movie downloads, which are encrypted and in Windows Media format. Although the files can be burned to a DVD, that disc is just for backup and will not be recognized by a DVD player. Movielink users can put the movie on up to three PCs, which is verifiable since the file connects to the service for a license each time it is loaded onto a computer. CinemaNow users are limited to the PC onto which the movie was downloaded. In both cases, an appropriately networked home could view these digital movies from any connected television or computer screen.

Which immediately prompts the question: If they're charging me the same amount of money for the download as I'd pay for the DVD, why wouldn't I just buy the DVD, especially when I can't burn the downloaded movie I allegedly "own" to DVD in any way that my DVD player will recognize?

Clearly what these folks are envisioning is the digital living room of the future, when everyone will presumably have their PC's hooked up to their plasma screens in the den and everyone's collection of everything — movies; music; hell, even your children and pets — will be in the form of digital files on hard drives. And then what happens when your hard drive crashes? The only disc copy you can have is one that simply stores the movie as data, to be loaded onto a new hard drive instead of just being able to be popped into a DVD player and watched? And then what if your replacement hard drive won't play back the movie downloads you "own," because the DRM doesn't recognize your new hard drive?

Sorry, but for now there are so many things about how this is being launched that I see as half-assed (among other things, neither movie service is Mac or Linux compatible) that I don't think the current programs are ready for prime time. I can understand slapping the sort of DRM on the movies that won't allow anyone to post them to newsgroups or P2P or BitTorrent or that sort of thing. But for chrissakes, if I'm being asked to shell out $20 for a movie download, then what I want, quite simply, is a straight-up "VIDEO_TS" folder from which I can burn a DVD to watch to my heart's content. After all, when you buy music from iTunes, you can listen to the tracks not only on your iPod, but burn up to seven copies of the album on CD (and yes, those CD's aren't just "backup"; you can play them on any goddamn player you have). I mean, it's simple. If I'm being asked to buy these downloads, I should be allowed to watch them in whatever way I choose. Why is that hard to figure out?

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